Carson, CA – The North American Soccer Reporters have named Emmanual Boateng, or “Ema” as his teammates call him, as  MLS Player of the Week for the shining example he set during last weekend’s game against Real Salt Lake.  Ironically, only two days before the game, Ema was not even slated to participate in the RSL game. Yet last Saturday, after being slotted into a role that opened up after Sebastian Lletget sustained a groin injury, Boateng quietly worked the left flank with diligence and his signature speed, tallying a goal and and two assists.

“He’s faster than most players. He’s left footed which helps on our attack on that side of the field. He’s a good overall player,” Bruce Arena reflected afterwards. “He’s really grown during the preseason and the start of the season. He can play on both sides of the ball. He’s getting better. He’s understanding the qualities he brings to the field, and his teammates understand it, and that allows him to be more productive.”

The very first thing you’ll notice about Emmanuel Boateng is his small stature and shy smile, yet both belie his abilities on the pitch. That is perhaps why Real Salt Lake’s head coach Jeff Cassar stated after their 2-5 thrashing last Saturday night, “we had been preparing all week for Lletget up there as well, but Boateng throws a different look to their play and we found out obviously today that he wasn’t playing and [Boateng] was a difference in the way they played.”

The 21-year-old Ghanaian midfielder, whose story is told in the film The Beautiful Game, has a knack for grabbing hold of opportunity when it comes knocking because he knows gifts don’t come by chance and they may not come again.  At the age of 15, he earned a scholarship from the Right to Dream Academy which invited him to play at the Cate School in California. After excelling at the Cate School as one of the top soccer players in the U.S., he got another invitation, this time to start at University of California, Santa Barbara, a year earlier than his high school peers. In the summer of 2013, right after a freshman year at U.C. Santa Barbara in which he also played for the Ventura County Fusion in PDL (notching 4 goals and 4 assists in the process), Boateng took another big leap, this time to Sweden, when he got the chance to train with the Helsingborgs IF. He had to buy his own ticket to Europe and take a chance on himself. It paid off. While in Sweden, Boateng played 52 matches, netting eleven goals, including 36 Premier Division games with four goals.

Not everything has gone smoothly for Boateng. His start with LA Galaxy in the preseason was rocky. Although he racked up minutes, his speed was without much productivity due to the lack in timing with his teammates. Pairing up with Robbie Keane would take some time to build.

Detractors and critics maintain putting him in front of more established players from Los Dos has been a consistent misstep by Bruce Arena, yet Arena’s always had a plan in mind:

“He’s a young and exciting player who offers a lot of pace to our team. He’s left footed and predominantly a left-sided attacking player who gives us something that we don’t have.” — Bruce Arena, on signing Ema Boateng before the start of the 2016 season.

Boateng not only nabbed the first assist of his MLS career last Saturday, he pounced on his first goal and a second assist, all before halftime. And though he hasn’t yet had the opportunity to successfully link up in the attack with LA Galaxy’s Robbie Keane due to Robbie’s recovery timeframe, there’s little doubt once the opportunity presents itself, as it always does for Emmanuel, he will make the best use of it.

“I still don’t think I’ve gotten to the place I want to be yet. I’m learning every day from the coaches and the veterans on the team so there’s still more that I need to learn as a player,” – Emmanuel Boateng, on his journey last Saturday night.

Boateng joins his teammates Giovani dos Santos and Mike Magee as POTW award recipients so far this season.

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