January 19, 2007 Toronto FC selection Richard Asante living a sweet dream (from Toronto Star)

Toronto FC selection living a sweet dream

January 19, 2007
Morgan Campbell

Richmond Baah was following Major League Soccer's draft on the Internet last Friday when he learned Toronto FC had selected his big brother, Richard Asante.

Minutes later he called Asante not to congratulate him, but to make sure the good news was true. Same with their dad, Charles Ofosu, who saw the draft results on TV but didn't dare tell friends until Monday, when Toronto FC introduced its draft picks to the media.

Even yesterday the disbelief ran deep. Asante, Baah and their parents, Charles and Mercy Ofosu, stood stone-faced and posed for photos in the living room of their townhouse.

When a photographer teased them they smiled a little.

They had every reason to grin. The son of a refugee from Ghana, Asante had risen from one of Toronto's toughest neighbourhoods to earn a soccer scholarship to Syracuse University and now he's set to become the only Toronto native playing for the hometown MLS squad.

But Asante and his family keep the celebrating in check because being drafted doesn't mean you've made it. It just means you've got an opportunity.

"It's a good feeling," said Asante, 22. "It's an expansion team, so every position is up for grabs if you're willing to prove yourself."

These days the newest member of Toronto FC still lives with his parents and his siblings Richmond, 18, Michelle Ofosu, 10, and Jackson Ofosu, 9.

They live in a brick townhouse on Driftwood Ave., just off Jane St., half a kilometre north of Finch Ave., and they're aware of the area's violent reputation.

Still, Charles Ofosu refuses to say anything bad about the neighbourhood that has been his home for the last 12 years.

He talks about moving to a bigger house "when things get better" and Asante, too, says that after 12 years in the townhouse, it's time for a new home.

But none of that will materialize simply because Asante has been drafted.

He hasn't signed a contract yet and when he does Toronto FC head coach Mo Johnston expects he'll earn about $31,000 (U.S.) a year.

And that's only if he makes the team's 18-man roster. As a rookie, he still might end up on the team's developmental roster, or its reserve team, where the salaries drop to anywhere between $975 and $1,375 a month.

Asante, who majored in Child and Family Studies at Syracuse, said he'd be teaching high school if he wasn't playing soccer.

But Johnston is optimistic and, with training camp set to open on Feb.1, he thinks Asante's game will continue to bloom.

"In a day-to-day environment, where he's being a professional, you have high hopes," Johnston says, "because he's hungry enough."

When Asante thinks about growing up on Driftwood, he doesn't think of crime. Instead, he remembers how living in an area with so many other Ghanaian families eased his transition to life in Canada.

"It gives you a chance to sit down and talk about Ghana," he says.

"Share jokes and whatnot."

Besides, Ofosu says, life in Ghana was tougher than life in Canada has ever been.

Ofosu grew up in Abesim, a town about five hours northeast of the nation's capital, Accra, and was a soccer phenom.

As a fifth-grader, he didn't just play on his school's eighth grade team, he captained it.

But Ofosu also had a mother and siblings to help support. He juggled school, soccer and work for as long as he could, but gave up school and sports after finishing Grade 10.

"My father had seven, eight wives and too many kids," Ofosu says. "He didn't marry my mom and he didn't care about me."

A couple of uncles served as surrogates, so Ofosu gave their surnames Asante and Baah to his two oldest sons.

Eventually, Ofosu's father left him some land in Abesim, but he says local government wanted the land, too, and soon sent armed henchmen to take it from him.

"It was a fight and I ran away to Nigeria," he says. "It wasn't easy, brother."

In 1988, after a few months in Nigeria, a sister in Canada sent for him.

He came to Montreal as a refugee, then moved on to Toronto.

Meanwhile, Mercy spent seven hungry years in Ghana with Asante and Baah.

"It was tough," says Mercy. "I didn't have clothes for my kids."

But all Asante remembers was soccer.

He might not have had many outfits, but he had a soccer ball and that made him a popular kid.

"School wasn't important," he remembers. "I had a soccer ball and that was all that mattered. The one with the ball usually had the friends."

That pattern continued in 1995, when Mercy, Asante and Baah joined Charles in Toronto. Here, other kids also had soccer balls, but none of them had skills like Asante's.

He dabbles in basketball and friends at Westview Centennial Collegiate Institute pestered him to join the track team, but Asante only wanted to play soccer.

Asante doesn't overwhelm you with size. He's listed at 5-foot-5, with narrow shoulders and powerful legs.

As a defensive midfielder Asante, isn't always the star, but he says everyone else shines brighter when he's on the field.

"I like to receive the ball and set plays up," said Asante, who scored five goals and had four assists in his four-year career at Syracuse.

"It's my job to make everyone else around me look good."

But he's also comfortable when he has to grab the spotlight.

This past season, late in a goal-less tie against Binghamton, N.Y., Asante found himself facing a pair of defenders more than 40 yards from the goal. He split them, switched the ball from left to right and buried a shot in the top right corner from 35 yards out to give Syracuse a 1-0 win.

Asante's play and personality have Johnston excited about his potential.

"He's a little pit bull," Johnston says.

"He's in there to work. He wants to work. He's on that path. It's all about him taking it."

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