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Tournaments Jul 31, 2014

Ohio striker Emmanuel Dapaa opens eyes at U.S. Youth Soccer National Championships

In the 34th minute of Ohio Premier Eagles Green’s semifinal match against Santa Barbara SC, striker Emmanuel Dapaa makes a darting run into the box from the near sideline. He signals for his teammate to pass the ball into the space ahead of him. Less than a second later, an arcing ball comes flying into the box and Dapaa pounces. A Santa Barbara defender sees Dapaa and runs to cut off the shooting angle.

He’s too late. Too late because Dapaa does the unexpected, quickly hitting the ball with the outside of his right foot and sending a curling shot over the outstretched arms of the diving Santa Barbara goalkeeper. Like that, the game is 2-0.

Before this year’s U.S. Youth Soccer National Championships, even savvy fans could be forgiven for not recognizing the name Emmanuel Dapaa. He’s not affiliated with any Development Academy club or MLS team. When he’s not playing for OP Eagles Green, he’s likely playing for his high school team, tiny Gahanna Christian Academy.

 +READ: Manhattan PSG emerge as breakout team of US Youth Soccer National Championships

But after scoring eight goals in four games at the U16 Boys National Championship, Dapaa has made believers of those who watched him terrorize opposing defenses at the Germantown, Md. tournament.

To understand Dapaa’s soccer gifts, you have to first understand his origins.

Emmanuel Dapaa was born in Vicenza, Italy to Ghanaian parents. Like many young kids in soccer mad Italy, Dapaa was introduced to the game as soon as he was old enough to play with the ball.

“We broke a lot of stuff in the house playing and practicing,” Dapaa told the Columbus Dispatch in October. “There was always a ball around, and we just played.”

But before Dapaa had even started kindergarten, his parents moved the entire family to the United States, eventually settling down in Columbus, Ohio.

In Dapaa’s play you can see this mix of American-style pragmatism and playground joie de vivre. His two set-piece goals in the semifinal and final are both audacious bits of skill, but Dapaa celebrates these feats with the stunned joyousness of a kid discovering something for the first time. “Did I really just do that?” his reactions seem to say.

+READ: Q&A with Kieran McCarthy, PDA Harkes U19 Boys goalkeeper

What set Dapaa’s goalscoring achievements apart from those of other talented young forwards is the degree of difficulty of Dapaa’s strikes. His second goal against Santa Barbara SC is remarkable precisely because it isn’t an anomaly. It’s the sign of a player finding his form and searching for the ceiling of his talent.

Like his team, OP Eagles Green, Dapaa’s tournament got off to a slow start. In his first match, Dapaa failed to score a goal in Eagles Green’s 4-1 loss to eventual champion Baltimore Celtic. But in his second match, Dapaa finally found both the ball and the space to play his game, scoring a hat trick in a 5-0 rout of Houstonians FC 98 Red. He followed this stellar performance with a goal against FC Golden State Platinum.

Those wins propelled OP Eagles Green into the semifinals for the first time in club history. There, the club went up against the reigning champions, Santa Barbara SC White. Before the match, this was SoccerWire’s assessment: “It may be hard to bet against the form of the talented Dapaa, but Santa Barbara has the experience and the skill to advance to yet another national final.”

Skill and experience, it turns out, were no match for the powerful Dapaa. Each of his three goals demonstrated a different skill set: ability on set pieces, close control and finishing, and a striker’s sense of space. On his third goal, Dapaa reads the defense perfectly, makes a slashing run right through Santa Barbara’s two central defenders, and rounds the keeper to finish near post. This, more than anything, is why Dapaa is such an exciting attacking talent: he makes it all look so easy.

Dapaa’s performance at the National Championships will certainly draw the attention of scouts and Development Academy clubs. If Dapaa is concerned about his soccer future, you couldn’t tell from his performances on the field. He’s too busy having fun.

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