TORONTO – Back home after two years surrounded by some of the biggest names in the game at New York City FC, Forge FC’s Kwame Awuah comes to the Canadian Premier League with a clear aim.
“Win everything that is put in front of us. Be the best team in any inaugural season ever,” he declared to CanPL.ca. “That’s what we play for.”
He added: “The enjoyment as well, but there is no better feeling than winning. That’s what the team is aiming for; what I’m aiming for.”
The Toronto-native spent the last two seasons in New York City, working under Patrick Vieira and alongside the likes of David Villa and Andrea Pirlo. Not a bad spot to take your first steps in the professional game. On a personal level, Awuah says he wants to become “a better player and a better person” and build on his time with the Pigeons.
“Patrick is one of the better coaches I’ve ever had and people know him for his playing days, not yet for his coaching,” Awuah reflected. “He has a great soccer mind and he believed in me, which is important for a player.”
As for his illustrious former teammates, Awuah called them “the best of the best.”
“David is the best goal-scorer in Spanish history. Andrea is a top 10 midfielder ever – Patrick as well,” Awuah rattled off. “Being able to learn from that, especially guys that play in my position – at the time I was playing centre midfield – was amazing.
“They taught me many tricks. Not only on the field, but off the field: professionalism, being able to deal with the pressures of the game, and to have fun.”
Vieira, a legend from his days patrolling the middle of the park for Arsenal and France, would even dust off the boots on occasion to show his was still the boss, leading to some of Awuah’s favourite memories.
“Patrick used to play with us whenever we played small sided, little things like that,” recalled Awuah. “You remember how good he was, he’s still killing us on the field.
“If you nutmegged Patrick, you’re not getting the ball back, you’re probably on the ground, holding the leg or something like that.”
In Pirlo, an Italian legend, and Villa, a Spanish one of equal merit, Awuah was an apprentice to generational talents, soaking up details from each.
“Andrea is one of the most interesting people in the world; his talent is unprecedented,” said Awuah. “And he did everything with a smile on his face. The person you see on the field is exactly the same in person. I enjoyed playing with him. And David was top tier, everything he did was sharp, top class.”
“You take little things, ask them questions on how they did this and that, and you learn from it. Those guys are out of this world. It makes you understand why they were able to accomplish what they (did): all three World Cup-winners. It was amazing.”
Though he made just ten appearances in MLS over the two seasons, that education was priceless for Awuah: “I didn’t get to play as much as I wanted to, but it was still a great experience.”
It would have been easy for a 21-year-old, fresh out of the University of Connecticut, to be cowed stepping into such an environment, but Awuah thinks his time with Bobby Smyrniotis at Sigma FC prepared him for the transition.
“It was easier because I played under Coach Bobby at Sigma. We treated everything as a professional organization: discipline and focus,” explained Awuah. “(Vieira) helped, took me under his wing, was able to steer me away from things that wouldn’t help; put me towards things that would.
“It was tough because a lot of guys were experienced – Champions League and all that – but I was able to understand the game at a higher level.”
Now, 23, he brings that wealth of knowledge back to Ontario, reuniting with Coach Bobby at Forge.
“Playing with those guys at that level, I feel I’m more than prepared to contribute to the team this season,” said Awuah. “Hopefully with what I’ve learned from Patrick, and Bobby in the past and my coaches at university, I’ll be able to do just that.