The Philadelphia Union is one of 20 professional soccer teams in the U.S. today that vie for the championship cup every year since Major League Soccer (MLS) started in 1996. Like most MLS teams, the Philadelphia Union has strived to include diversity on its roster recruiting players from other parts of the world including Africa and the Diaspora. Recently, FunTimes Magazine visited the Chester offices of the Philadelphia Union and interviewed several players from the Diaspora.
Andre Blake – Goal Keeper
Andre Blake, 25 years-old, is one of the league’s sensational and dynamic goal keepers and a native of Jamaica. The 6’1″ Blake who wears the number 1 jersey was the Philadelphia Union’s number one pick at the MLS Super Draft in 2014. Prior to coming to Philadelphia, he played for the Jamaican National Team where he made his World Cup Qualifying debut against Nicaragua in September 2015.
Blake attended the University of Connecticut for three years. He hopes to finish his degree some day. In 2013, while at the university, Blake registered 10 shutouts to win the American Athletic Conference Goal Keeper of the Year award.
“Ever since I was young, I wanted to play soccer as a way out for me to better myself and my life and my family’s life. I got good feedbacks from people watching me play,” Blake said. “I was most influenced by the Manchester United goal keeper Edwin van der Sar–Yeah that guy!
“I thought if I continued to work hard and be a little lucky, I could make it one day. I was doing well at UConn and entered the draft. The Philadelphia Union liked me so they drafted me; here I am now.”
As Blake was choosing what might be his favorite game, he said, “That’s a tough one but I’ll keep it recent; thus far, it’s us against New England when I had 10 saves and I had the record for the club.
“The fans here are crazy; some of the best I’ve played in front of. They are loud and make you feel liked; they give you that extra energy, that extra drive you need to do the impossible; they are great. We have autograph sessions after every game. We also send out tweets after the games thanking fans for coming out and for their support.”
When he talks to people who don’t know about major league soccer, he tells them that soccer is a great sport and that they shouldn’t miss out because it is growing for years to come.
He and his team mates have a great relationship: Blake notes, “Teamwork is the key and we communicate off the field as well. We’re building not just a team but a family, and whenever we are successful doing that, the results show on the field because all the guys have each other’s back and they’re willing to work just as hard for each other and that’s great.”
Blake’s advice to young aspiring players, “The main thing is keep your eyes on your dreams. Sometimes things might not be going the way you want but that doesn’t mean you should lose hope or give up. Maybe everyone has to take a different path to success. Things may be tough; you just have keep fighting on believing that one day your dream will come through.”
In his leisure time, he plays his drum set and listens to music, “I especially enjoy reggae, of course. That’s pretty much something I’m never going to lose.” His favorite artist is Bob Marley. He added that sometimes he goes out to the shooting range.
Blake was married in December 2015 and said, “I’m a family person so for me, it’s not that tough to arrange my schedule. When its soccer time, its soccer time. But I’m not consumed by soccer. You have to have a life outside of soccer because it’s tough mentally to play soccer. So whenever you can get a chance to relax, it’s great. For me, I’m always finding the time to relax with my family. I like rice and beans and jerk chicken as my favorite foods at home. ‘Fame’ is part of being a professional; you just got to keep focused because there are lots of stuff out there that can be distracting. So you just have to find a way to keep focused on what’s been making you successful.”
Blake says, “I’m keeping open about my future. Maybe I’ll go into coaching or operate my own business after my soccer career.
Josh Yaro – Defender
The 5’11” defender of the Union’s goal is Josh Yaro, a 21 year-old native of Kumasi, Ghana. In 2015 , he was selected the NSCAA Second Team All American honoree, the Unanimous Big East Defensive Player of the Year and the Unanimous First Team All-Big East for the second consecutive year. He was also selected for the First Team All-Great Lakes Region.
Yaro went to Cate School, a private boarding school in Santa Barbara, California before attending Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. This is his first year playing professionally for the Philadelphia Union, wearing the number 15 jersey.
“The big part for me is making the most of opportunities you get in life. I remember growing up and looking to the future; I couldn’t see a clear path to achieving my dream. But everything that happened in my life and all the chances I got, I tried to make the most out of them,” Yaro stated. “I tried to maximize my potential by staying patient and working hard and realizing that it’s going to take a lot of effort, time and dedication. When the time comes and its right, go for it.”
Yaro remembered that culturally, he grew up in an environment where every kid played soccer and it was every kid’s dream to play professionally. I was motivated to do well. His all-time favorite player is Rio Ferdinand who is a center-back for Manchester United. I grew up watching him; he’s really hard working, dedicated and successful. Yaro also prepared for a second career by majoring in international relations in college and sees diplomacy as a probable profession after soccer.
He relayed that he came through college, entered the draft and was fortunate enough to be picked up by the Philadelphia Union. Of all the games he’s played, he told about the one he remembers most, “Making my debut recently in front of thousands of fans–about 39,000 people going crazy; that was when I knew that I was finally getting to live my dream of playing professional soccer. Making my professional debut means a lot to me; I’m never going to forget that day.”
Yaro’s favorite food is Ghanaian jollof rice. In hi leisure time he likes to walk around his neighborhood, to read, watch TV and make dinner: that’s his typical day after practice. He shared that he does have a girlfriend in college in Washington D.C.
“Fortunately she’s not too far away from Philly and is able to come here every weekend we have a home game. I just moved to the city and getting to know places still consumes most of my time.”
Eric Ayuk – Midfielder
Eric, the 5’6″ midfielder who hailed from Yaounda, Cameroon, is 19 years old and the second youngest to play for the Philadelphia Union. Eric joined the Union in March 2015 from Rain Bow FC, a South Sudanese football club.
In his first Union season, Ayuk played 28 games and started in 14. In his MLS play, he scored two times and assisted on two more; scoring his first league goal on April 25 against Columbus, Ohio.
The magnificent midfielder who wears number 14, said that he knew he wanted to play soccer since he was a kid. “When I was born, my father bought me a soccer ball; my soul would take over me playing. My father was a great player too however he didn’t follow his career. He had to struggle and it wasn’t easy for me to come over here. I’m taking over for him!” Ayuk commented.
“My agent was in contact with the Union team and they came over to see me in Thailand where I was playing for a couple of years. Then they asked me to move to America to improve myself,” Ayk said. “Now I feel like I have a future with the Union.”
His greatest memory was in a game against Montreal when he scored from the midfield. “It was wonderful when the ball hit the net; that’s how I started my career in America.”
Ayuk plays all positions depending on where the team needs him to play including gal keeper. “It’s a great feeling to be named player of the week. I’m happy; it gives me confidence and it gives me joy to keep working and improving my game. I scored the first goal in a recent game and gave an assist to my friend Derek; he’s like a family. I was happy to do that.”
Ayuk’s advice to other young people in Africa or the states who are aspiring to be soccer players is, “Train hard because you don’t know what the future holds. Be clear on what you want and do what you need to do. I really admire my big brother; he plays soccer well too but he had to choose. He decided to focus on school so dropped out of soccer.”
In his spare time, he takes English classes, as he says in life you have to try and do lots of things because you never know what’s going to happen in the future. He says that he’s still young and focused on his career so hasn’t fit in a personal relationship. He feels he has many options: to be an agent or a coach, or even to work in his agent’s company. He says his favorite food is jollof rice, “I always keep it in the kitchen together with some fufu and chicken.”
Ayuk concluded with, “I’m happy to know about FunTimes magazine now so I can now give my support to the magazine.
Union Supports Philadelphia International Unity Cup – By Staff Writer
Besides being a major soccer giant in the City of Philadelphia, the Union Soccer team has also partnered with city officials to promote the International Unity Cup Soccer Championship scheduled to begin in September of this year.
The Union’s Chief Business Officer, Tim McDermott told FunTimes Magazine at Mayor Kenney’s City Hall announcement to inaugurate the Unity Cup that “When we heard about the International Unity Cup Soccer Championship, we were delighted; the Philadelphia Union will be fully supportive.” He added, “It is the first of its type. Soccer is an amazing sport. We’re blessed to have such a tremendous and passionate fans in Philadelphia who love soccer and the Philadelphia Union.”
McDermott joined the Philadelphia Union early this year and says his journey so far has been tremendous. “We’re in first place with 12 new players and a new style. The effort that our supporting director has put forth has been incredible, involving sports science, nutrition, and double day trainings. We’re seeing the results,” he continued.
Highlighting the team’s community engagements, McDermott said, “Our Philadelphia Union Foundation along with our Community Relations Division staff are out there doing projects and events. Last year we installed a smaller soccer field outside of a school in Chester.” With the desire to fully reach out to the immigrant community, McDermott said, “We also look forward to partnering with FunTimes to reach out to the talented soccer players around the city.
“We agree with Mayor Kenney that soccer is a universal language that brings people together, including different cultures and ethnicities. Soccer is the world’s largest sport and growing. Someone told me that more people play soccer than basketball, baseball, and football combined. Major League Soccer (MLS) attendance is actually greater than NBA attendance.
“We really believe that soccer can transform lives and we’re in a position where we can help do that. Our games are exciting and we appreciate everyone who has been supportive.” Tim