Ghana defender Harrison Afful has been a member of Columbus Crew SC for fewer than two months, and one could argue he’s already seamlessly integrating himself into the lineup.
He combined with MLS leading goal-scorer Kei Kamara for two goals in five minutes to help Columbus beat the Philadelphia Union 2-1 in PPL Park last weekend. Afful received credit for an assist on the game-winner, as his first cross to Kamara’s head was flicked on by Union defender Richie Marquez.
“Harrison contributed to my two goals last game,” Kamara says. “For me, it’s really just trying to understand him a lot more because he hasn’t been here that long. But at the same time, he has some special skills. I’ve watched him play on the National Team with Ghana, and I’ve talked with him a little bit more on and off the field.”
The Crew SC forward says he's trying to connect well with his teammate that he describes as a “good, very talented, experienced player, who knows the game.” With just five regular-season matches remaining this year, time is of the essence for them to connect.
“We have to click really fast, because this is the point in the season where we don’t have that much time, like preseason, to adjust,” Kamara says. “Harrison has been a really good addition to the team.”
Afful is adjusting quickly, which is evident in his performances, but a large part of that chemistry takes place off the pitch.
“It’s like a family here,” Afful says, “and that’s the most important thing — for me to be part of the family. I’m really enjoying my time here.”
It’s easy for him to get acclimated quickly and enjoy his new life in Columbus, as his overall positive demeanor and work ethic reflect Crew SC Sporting Director and Head Coach Gregg Berhalter’s style of leadership.
“He’s come in with a great attitude,” Berhalter says. “The guys have accepted him really well, and he feels at home here. It’s a pleasure to see a guy adapt that quickly and really embrace our style of play.”
Building from the back has proven effective for Crew SC as its starting leftback, Waylon Francis, continues to lead MLS in assists by a defender with six. Harrison Afful steps onto the field each time with a similar attacking mentality.
“That is one of my strengths, to be moving forward,” Afful says. “But I’m a defender, and as a defender, I need to defend before I attack.”
He says a lot of knowing when and where to attack comes from listening to his coach. Learning from Berhalter and implementing his tactics are a top priority for Afful, who says “there is no way you can go further if you don’t listen to advice.”
“Harrison has a good understanding of how we want to play, and that’s not easy for players that come in midseason,” Berhalter says. “You see that he’s picked right up where the other guys have left off in terms of getting forward, and making a difference in the attacking third. It’s required for our fullbacks to do that, so he understands that well.”
In just four matches, all of which he’s started, Harrison Afful has shown that he can make a difference for the Black & Gold. With encouragement from his teammates, coaches and supporters, Afful says he’s reaching his peak performance level to deliver for the club.
“I’m just doing my thing,” Afful says. “Each and every day I make sure I learn stuff to improve my game to help the club as well, because I’m not here alone. I know my fans out there are expecting a lot from me, so I’m always ready to deliver for them.”
The next opportunity to see Crew SC's No. 25 in action is this Saturday against D.C. United at RFK Stadium.