Abu Danladi: Untapped Potential
By Zachary Junda (@ZacharyJunda), contributor
Abu Danladi is a paradox. Bursting with talent, Danladi was Nashville SC’s first ever selection in the 2019 Expansion Draft. He is no stranger to being picked first out of a litany of contenders; he was picked first by Minnesota United in the 2017 MLS SuperDraft.
There’s no denying Danladi is supremely talented; how many players can say they were selected first by two different organizations? But if Danladi is talented enough to be a two-time No. 1 overall selection, why would Minnesota ever leave the young and promising striker unprotected?
When Danladi was on the field, his potential seemed unlimited. As a rookie in 2017, Danladi finished second in the MLS Rookie of the Year voting. In 27 appearances and 15 starts, Danladi scored eight goals and added another three assists. But his health started to betray him and changed the arc of his career in Minnesota.
As the saying goes, “availability is your best ability”, and Danladi wasn’t someone the Loons could count on due to nagging injuries to his hamstrings. In 2018 alone, Danladi suffered injuries to his left hamstring three times, his right hamstring two separate times, and battled an ankle ailment on top of everything else. Factor in of the rapid emergence of Mason Toye, Minnesota United deemed Danladi expendable and made him available for the expansion draft where Nashville chose to take a chance on him as a low risk/high reward project.
“Danladi’s story will be told in terms of an exceptional soccer talent embedded in a good soul, but one who never reached his potential” Michael Clark of E Pluribus Loonum said. “MNUFC moving on without Danladi makes perfect soccer sense.”
The dynamic goal scoring echoed back to his days as a UCLA Bruin. In three years at Westwood, Danladi scored 18 goals and had 18 assists. As a freshman, Danladi burst onto the scene with five goals and six assists. He would go on to earn numerous accolades as a freshman, such as the Top Drawer Soccer Freshman of the Year, all-freshman Best XI selection and was ranked the No. 1 freshman in America by Top Drawer.
He logged nearly 1,300 minutes as a sophomore. That 2015 season was the most minutes he’d play aside from his rookie season in Minnesota. And just like in 2017, when Danladi was on the field for for UCLA he was extremely productive. He lead the Bruins in assists, shots and shots on goal. He finished third on the team in points with 22 and would be named First Team All-Pac 12. Unfortunately for Danladi, his time in California mirrored his time with Minnesota: full of good health and goals in the beginning, marred by injuries at the end. In his last season with UCLA, Danladi logged just 744 minutes, the fewest in his three year college career.
“In general, Danladi was a pure scorer for UCLA with a nose for the net and very good one-on-one ball skills,” Steve Jacobs of Bruins Nation said. “Most who are in the know would say his one-on-one skills are his forte. At the college level, he could create his own shot and was not dependent upon getting accurate service to get his chances.”
Off the field, Danladi’s story is nothing short of remarkable.. Danladi came to America from Ghana through the Right to Dream Group, a project dedicated to identifying talented young players and providing them opportunities to better their lives through soccer. Right to Dream has an academy in Ghana, a club in Denmark and foundations in both the United States and the United Kingdom.
Danladi is a product of Right to Dream Academy Ghana, which is described by founder Tom Vernon as “the premier facility” in Africa. The academy opened in 2009 and houses 90 students. Not only do students get top-notch coaching, it also has a STEM focus that provides students a “modern, student-centered academic curriculum.”
Danladi left the country and his family when he was 11 years old and attended Dunn High School in Los Olivos, California, about 115 miles northwest of Los Angeles. Family is what drives Danladi and he never forgets where he comes from.
“In Ghana we play on dirt, sometimes gravel,” Danladi said. “Sometimes we don’t even have soccer balls so we put rocks together, just to have something we can kick around. I think it’s one of my greatest motivations: to make my family proud, make my community proud, make Dunn School proud because they’ve given me something special.”
In Nashville, Danladi has an opportunity to revitalize his career at a brand new franchise and show fans why both Minnesota United and Nashville SC valued him so highly. The potential is there. Will Danladi turn that potential into consistent production?