For the third time in six years, the prestigious Gatorade National Soccer Player of the Year award has been presented to a promising Ghanaian talent. Umar Farouk Osman came to America to not only play soccer, but to build relationships, live out his dreams and for an unprecedented education.
Osman received the award directly from 2015 recipient, Jack Harrison, who currently plays as a winger for NYCFC of the MLS. At the young age of 20, Harrison currently ranks second on the team in goals, only behind former international Spanish superstar David Villa, exemplifying the bright future that lies ahead for any recipient of the Gatorade National Men’s POY Award.
When discussing Osman’s potential and future, Harrison said, “We both came to the states for an education, but at the same time, we were able to be here because of soccer. Through his hard work and dedication, he’s driven himself to this award and hopefully to many other things as well.”
Harrison also said, “I played against him before. (He) showed immediate talent and (he’s) got lots of potential. (Umar’s) very exciting to watch.”
Osman’s journey began in Ghana, where he faced immediate competition. Umar said, “There are ten regions in Ghana and the soccer scouts travel around the 10 region (circuit) to recruit soccer players. I traveled around the 10 regions to compete against over 400 kids. Out of the many soccer players, they chose 11 of us to go to Right to Dream for the finals tryouts.”
Right to Dream is a highly selective charity academy in Africa that helps young, talented soccer players reach their true potential. Founded in 1999 by Tom Vernon, the goal was to provide children and their family with the opportunity to build a better life for themselves through the sport of soccer. The program has since grown to become a residential international school that offers scholarships to players like Osman all across Africa.
Recent developments include the opening of a women’s program in 2013 and the installation of a $2.5 million all-purpose facility in 2010, which has led it to gain acclaim as one of the best training academies in the world. Right to Dream has since established partnerships with several American high schools, such as The Hotchkiss School, where Osman has attended.
“At Right to Dream, I was assessed in terms of my character, soccer ability and academics. I was at Right to Dream for about three years before heading over to the states. During my three years, I was challenged in many ways. I had to compete every single day to earn a starting spot on the team and if my grades weren’t good enough, I didn’t get to practice with my teammates,” Osman said.
His goals and his aspirations are high, and he is only able to reach that high with the strong support system that he has. Osman said, “My mom is my biggest motivation. She supported (me) in every decision I made. She allowed me to leave home at the age of 10 to go chase my dreams. It’s hard sometimes, but my mom knows I’m in safe hands, so it’s all good.”
Chasing Osman’s dreams have not come without some hardships. In his first game for Hotchkiss, a private school in Connecticut, Umar broke both his clavicles and missed most of the season. He responded to such adversity by scoring a total of 63 goals and assisting 45 times to conclude his high school soccer career. Not too shabby for a 5’9”, 150 lb midfielder out of Ghana.
Outside of his mother, Osman has plenty of people in his life to look up to, both on and off the pitch. He said, “Jack Harrison and Tom Vernon (founder of Right to Dream) are my biggest inspirations. My inspirations (when) growing up and learning how to play soccer were David Silva and Lionel Messi, although I support Manchester United. (In Ghana), Asamoah Gyan is a player everyone is looking up to. He’s done a lot for the national team and he cares about his country.”
Osman will be thinking about such contributors when deciding what to do with the $1,000 grant that he receives on behalf of Gatorade along with his award. This money goes to a cause of Umar’s choice, with the opportunity of raising that sum to $10,000 by writing a short essay about the subject.
On the pitch, Osman describes his biggest skill set to be his speed and his fearless mentality when attacking defenders. Other coaches have been quick to laud his size, technical skill, and his dedication to playing both sides of the ball, offensively and defensively.
Osman is slated to attend the University of Michigan and play for their men’s soccer team. He said, “I will have to stay at school and work extra. I really want to be a professional soccer player in the near future. I’m planning on getting my degree first before going pro. I’m excited for that because Michigan has the right facilities and faculty to help me attain my dreams in life.”
Umar has developed a close relationship to his community upon arriving in the States, showing the content of his character. “Shout out to the Black Rock team for winning the state cup this year and for representing Connecticut in Nationals. I really had a good time playing with the guys. They’ve been very supportive, especially Theo, Noah, Cole and Stephen. They’ve always been there for me and couldn’t have asked for a better teammates,” he said. Sounds like Osman has found a home away from home.
“It means a lot to me to win this award and it tells me whatever I’m doing, people are watching and they appreciate what I’m doing. Winning this award serves as a stepping stone to work extra harder (towards) achieving my dream. My next goal is to settle in college and get used to the style of play and then move from there,” Osman said. Umar plans to play in the MLS, and hopes to stay close to his friends in the process.
**Cover photo by USA Today.