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How one CT man made the long journey from a Ghana orphanage to pro soccer at Hartford Athletic

WINDSOR — Life delivered a hard set of circumstances to Anderson Asiedu at a very young age. He was 10 when his mother died in a car accident in the remote African village in which they lived, then his grandmother took him to live in a home without electricity, and couldn’t afford to raise him.

Asiedu was sent to live in an orphanage outside Domaa-Ahenkro, 300 miles inland from Accra, the teeming capital on the coast of Ghana. He spent much of his time practicing soccer, the game that was in his DNA and in his heart, and the rest on school work. Asiedu’s father was a player in Ghana’s premier league, away most of the time.

“You can’t complain, because the circumstances you’re given is what you’ve got.” Asiedu said. “I was a living at an orphanage and school, with a group of guys, most of the guys didn’t have parents. We just train, focus on football and also doing school. I left that place and made it to a school in my city.”

That was the first step on a journey he never imagined, a journey that took Asiedu from Dormaa-Ahenkro to New Jersey, where he played on the top-ranked prep team at St. Benedict’s, which you know as the place Dan Hurley got his first head coaching job, and then on to Monmouth, UCLA and into the professional ranks. Asiedu, 27, is spending his seventh pro season with Hartford Athletic (3-2), a dynamic midfielder and play-maker on a much-improved team.

“You see his energy here in training every day, and he practices at the same level he plays, which translates into games with other guys,” Athletic coach Brendan Burke said. “So he really drives the training environment. He knows how to win, he’s ultra competitive. I think he’s been great for us.”

Asiedu’s father always preached hard work. “Soccer is not for lazy people, he would tell me,” Asiedu said. “He trained me to work hard, play hard because somebody is watching you. You have to be always mentally and physically ready.”

And when fate opened the door a crack one day in Domaa-Ahenkro, Asiedu, then 16, was ready to shine in the sliver of daylight. A coach named Sylvers Owusu was touring his native country, looking for players that might fit at St. Benedict’s. Owusu’s aunt was headmaster at Asiedu’s school, and had alerted him to some good players who were serious students. Owusu watched Asiedu play in a pickup game, with cleats held together with homespun stitches, on a gravel-strewn field, competing with bigger, much older players..

“I wasn’t the one he was interested in,” Asiedu said. “I was in that school, I was well-known because my dad played. I was just lucky, maybe blessed from God.”

Asiedu was soon on his way to Newark, where Fr. Edwin Leahy, who had played an important role for Hurley, and coach Jimmy Wandling accepted him at St. Benedict’s and onto the soccer team. He knew only a few words and phrases in English, speaking mostly Twi, the native language in Ghana.

“I came to America in 2013, I didn’t speak English and it was hard for me,” Asiedu said. “I was a little bit home sick, food I wasn’t used to. What made me comfortable, I met my host family.”

Enter Matt Leong, who was four years younger, but inspired by all Asiedu said and did at St. Benedict’s. His parents, Todd and Grace Leong, became Anderson’s hosts, and they grew up together. Last week Matt Leong, 23, who now plays for NYCFC II, competed against Asiedu in a U.S. Open Cup game in Hartford.

“They made my adjustment feel more like home,” Asiedu said. “That helped me adjust to the States and concentrate on football, because I had good people who were my backbone, who were there for me. … That’s where God really helped me with the mindset I had. I didn’t look at it like, ‘I’m in a rush to get to this.’ I was taking it day by day, because when I look back at my life in Africa, football is all I’ve got. My genes, my father, so when I’m playing here, I’m looking back at Africa when we were playing and we didn’t even have cleats, proper gear, and now here I am with good coaching, high school, I’m getting an education, I’m in the right place. It was a dream come true for me, that was a life-changing moment for me, to escape all the things that I went through. That was the turning point in my life, and I realize this is all I’ve got and I’ve got to make the most of it.”

Asiedu starred at St. Benedict’s and qualified for college, allowing him to stay in the U.S. Desiring to stay close to his host family and the friends he’d made in Jersey, he went to nearby Monmouth, where he had two goals and five assists, but typically controlled play from his midfield spot for two seasons — even if he was only 5 feet 6 and 155 pounds. “Monmouth really helped me to maneuver life experience in America, how college would be, and then I got the confidence,” Asiedu said.

He was ready to spread his wings, see another part of the U.S., play at a higher level. He transferred to UCLA, which had recruited him originally, starting as a walk-on, but soon earning a scholarship, scoring three goals, with four assists in 34 games, named to the All-Pac 12 team both seasons. There Asiedu earned his BA degree in African-American studies.

“When I came to America, I knew my African history, Ghanaian history, but wanted to know the background, the story behind people of color,” he said. “That motivated me to study African-American history.”

In 2019, Atlanta United made Asiedu the 24th overall pick in Major League Soccer’s “super draft,” and his emotional reaction to all that had transpired made for a viral video.

“At that time, it was a dream-come-true for me,” he said. “That’s what everybody hopes for. Africa, St. Benedicts, Monmouth, UCLA, all the people that helped me along the way, I was very grateful for the moment. I was expressing my gratitude to the people who helped me.”

Eventually, Asiedu moved from Atlanta FC II to Birmingham in the USL Championship league, where he played regularly for five seasons on a contending team. With Burke and CEO Nick Sakiewicz overhauling Athletic’s roster after the four-win season in 2023, they targeted Asiedu and signed him Dec. 14. He has stared all five games, getting two assists for Hartford, and leading the team in passes and passing accuracy (75 percent), in duels, interceptions and tackles won on defense.

“He’s a strong character on our team,” said defender Thomas Vancaeyezeele. “He wins the ball back, even though he is kind of small, he is really strong in his legs. He makes plays. He does everything possible for the team to succeed.”

Said Asiedu: “I want to be a good teammate, a good friend, loving to people. Respect goes a long way, it’s reciprocal. You’ve got to make sure your energy is clean, you bring positive energy and teammate can count on you. I want them to say, ‘I want to go to war with Anderson, because he’ going to give me his best. This guy never takes days off.'”

Asiedu now has permanent residence status in the U.S., with hopes of becoming a citizen in the next few years. Last November, he returned to Ghana for the first time since leaving in 2013. He went back to Domaa-Ahenkro, to his school, the orphanage, his family, his mother’s grave.

“Sometimes you need that type of connection,” he said. “It clears my mind, too. I came back to the United State with happiness. I want to inspire all the kids, I went them to look at my story and use it for motivation in life.

“… I never dreamed of this. Never. But I always believed in myself. I always knew that this is what I loved. I’ve grown a lot, because every moment of my career, I made the most out of it. It’s just life, you’ve got to live through. You don’t have to think far (ahead), just enjoy the moment. Respect what you do and love what you do, because that’s what you’ve got. I cherish every moment. Looking back at where I came from in Africa, every moment is like, the best moment. Now, I am a free spirit, doing what I love to do.”

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