Photo courtesy of Dayton Athletics
Born in Kumasi, Ghana, Lalas Abubakar was well on his way to becoming a professional player in 2014, and while his path to the pros has had some twists and turns since then, the defender is hoping a successful 2016 vaults him into the big leagues and back into the Ghanaian national team picture.
Abubakar, a 6-foot-1 senior at University of Dayton, excelled as a young defender growing up in Ghana, and his talent at a young age was noticed by the federation there. He received a call-up to a Ghana Under-20 Men’s National Team camp in February 2014, and Abubakar was on track to try out for a contract with Portuguese powerhouse Sporting Lisbon months later.
At the same time, Dayton – which sent an assistant coach to see Abubakar play at the University of Ghana in Legon – showed interest in bringing the talented defender stateside. Weighing his options, Abubakar attempted to go to Portugal for the tryout, but due to visa issues, he missed the opportunity.
“My coach wanted me to wait a little longer [for more professional opportunities], but my family was like, ‘Lalas you cannot wait any more. You cannot miss both opportunities. You’ve missed one.’ And it was almost August, so if I didn’t come to the United States to start the fall season with the school, I might not make it here,” Abubakar told USLPDL.com. “I listened to my family and told my coach, and he understood. The U20 coach also understood that I would come to the U.S., and if I did, the chances of coming back to play for the U20 would be very limited due to school. It would be difficult to come down to Ghana for games.
“For now, I know the GFA [Ghana Football Association] definitely know me, so in the future, if I make it to the professional level, I think my chances of playing for the national team are higher.”
Since joining Dayton, Abubakar has made 55 appearances, scoring four goals and providing four assists. He was named to the Atlantic 10 All-Rookie Team in 2014, and he also earned Atlantic 10 All-Conference First Team honors in 2015.
However, according to Abubakar, his most-cherished achievement is the one he earned this summer with the Michigan Bucks in the PDL.
“When I got back from Michigan, I told my friends that that was the best achievement I’ve ever had in my life – winning the PDL Championship,” Abubakar said. “Even in Ghana, I never won a national championship. When I came here, we won the A10 Championship [in 2015] and made it to the second round of the NCAA Tournament, but unfortunately, we couldn’t go on to win the national championship.
“In the summer when I won the championship, even my coach [Dayton’s Dennis Currier] was so happy for me. Before the final game, he texted me and was like, ‘Lalas, I wish you good luck, and win the national championship, so you can finish up a good year also winning the A10 championship.’ The Michigan Bucks were a great group of guys who you always wish to play with – a very nice organization. Everyone is nice, the coaches, Dan Duggan, I love everyone there. It was a good experience for me, and I don’t think I will ever forget it.”
Abubakar, who was voted 2016 PDL Defender of the Year and finished the PDL season ranked third on the 2016 PDL Top Prospects list, has great pace for a center back and is best known for his strength and aerial ability. He played 16 games, including all four postseason games, for the Bucks, helping the team record 13 total shutouts en route to winning the PDL title.
Now, the defender is focused on leading the Flyers to another Atlantic 10 Conference Championship. Dayton is currently 5-6-2 – 1-1-1 in conference play – and has five games remaining in the regular season. Abubakar believes that the Flyers can make a late push, and he hopes to focus on improving his own game along the way.
“Communication, I think I’ve improved a lot as a center back,” Abubakar said. “When I first got here, it was a little bit different. My coach here at Dayton always tells me a big part of a center back here in the United States is being able to lead your team on the field – try to talk, be the voice on the field.
“Overall, this summer, I think I improved a lot with the Michigan Bucks, and even last year when I went to Charlotte [Eagles]. After the season [Eagles Head Coach Dave] Dixon told me what I needed to improve on to go to the next level, so I listened to him because he was a very good coach. I’ve tried to add that to my soccer knowledge, so every time I’m on the field, I’m getting better at communication.”