Gershon Koffie Empire Field training
Bob Frid

Plucked from obscurity, the emergence of Gershon Koffie

Before his arrival to Vancouver last September, little was known of midfielder Gershon Koffie. As the newest member of Whitecaps FC's inaugural Major League Soccer squad, the club are hoping the young Ghanaian will become a big part of the Blue and White.

On Wednesday, the 19-year-old joined fellow African import Nizar Khalfan as the first players to be signed to MLS international roster spots by Whitecaps FC. This comes a little over five months after the talented West African was first brought to Canada's west coast during the last year's USSF D-2 Pro League campaign.

Whitecaps FC director of soccer operations Tom Soehn identified Koffie during a scouting trip to Ghana in 2010. Though the scouting environment was less than ideal, it did not take long for the former D.C. United head coach to see the teenager's potential. "During my trip to Ghana, I ended up watching more soccer than any trip I've been on - 32 games in a week," Soehn told "It was on that trip that I got to watch Gershon three times. In one instance, he played two full matches, and on fields that no one could imagine you could pick out a soccer player on. The things that drew me to him were not only his technical abilities, but his tactical awareness in a positional sense."

While he made only six appearances last season, Koffie's tenacity and willingness to win possession in central midfield stood out very quickly. He even endeared himself to 'Caps fans with a crucial goal in the USSF D-2 playoff series versus Cascadia rivals and MLS expansion cousins Portland Timbers.

For Soehn, Koffie's efforts at the tail end of last season showed the midfielder's desire for growth as a player. "I think anytime you have someone that is young like Gershon, you look to see if he has a willingness to learn and a desire to improve. He's got both of those qualities," he said. "I thought with every game he played last year, Gershon got better and better. Since being part of our current MLS side, I've seen different qualities in him that I think he can expand on and which can potentially make him an important piece of our squad."

Battling in midfield and challenging for the ball is considered one of Koffie's strong points. Yet, Soehn believes fans will see more of the youngster's abilities in MLS. "I like Gershon's ability to distribute the ball around and change the point of attack," he said. "Lots of times, you just see a ball winner whose only good at winning the ball. Gershon is good at winning possession and making the next pass, which potentially leads to a goalscoring opportunity."

To come from the obscurity of lower division soccer in his native Ghana, Koffie may yet have many an MLS pundit talking of his emerging qualities during the 2011 season.