NEW YORK — When University of Connecticut coach Ray Reid took a 2012 recruiting trip to observe Sigma FC in League 1 Ontario, one striker clearly stood out: Cyle Larin – the Canadian International who now plays with Beşiktaş in the top tier of Turkish soccer after three prolific Major League Soccer seasons with Orlando City SC.
But Reid was also very impressed with Kwame Awuah.
Sigma FC mates Larin and Awuah eventually joined Reid with the UConn Huskies in the fall of 2013.
“Kwame had his own skill set, had his own game and stood out on his own,” Reid said when comparing the pair. “We recruited them separately, but they were good friends.”
Awuah played four years with the Huskies. Now 22 years old, he is in his second season with New York City FC, which selected the Toronto native as the 16th overall pick of the 2017 MLS SuperDraft.
Sunday, Awuah was awarded his first professional start in the team’s 3-1 defeat at Seattle.
“I just want to say thank you to the coach for trusting me to play this game,” Awuah said. “I just did what I was supposed to do from the instructions – unfortunately not enough to get a result.”
Awuah’s coach at NYCFC, Dome Torrent, was forced to make an adjustment to the starting XI with Alex Ring serving a one-game suspension for yellow card accumulation.
“Since Ring got suspended, the coach could have made any decision and I’m happy that he trusted me in a tough game,” Awuah said. “They told me yesterday (Saturday) before training.”
Torrent said Kwame has played really well in training sessions, “especially the last two weeks.”
“It’s not possible to play Ring, so I decide on Kwame,” Torrent said. “I am very happy for him. He played very, very well.”
Awuah, who has two caps with the Canadian under-23 team, said he preferred to learn about his starting assignment with adequate preparation rather than the day of the match.
“I was a bit amped up, but I had other things to keep my head away from soccer,” Awuah said. “I don’t really like to think too much about what’s going to happen in a big moment like this – all of us have Nintendo switches.”
Including his roommate and close friend, winger Jonathan Lewis, who has a goal and three assists in seven games and 138 minutes total under Torrent. Lewis logged only 28 minutes in two matches with former coach Patrick Vieira.
Awuah has seen a similar boost in playing time with the new manager. The former Huskie co-captain has played in three of the last four matches for a total of 115 minutes, compared to a pair of cameo appearances totaling three minutes under Vieira.
“We live together, so we’re always together,” Awuah said of his brotherhood with Lewis. “We’re both happy for each other just to see our hard work rewarded is a good feeling for both of us.”
The expanding challenge for Awuah is a congested midfield following the recent acquisitions of Eloi Amagat from Spain and Argentine Valentín Castellanos.
“I kind of keep that in the back of my mind, but honestly I just focus on myself,” Awuah said. “That’s how I’ve been since Patrick was here. I just focus on what I have to do as an individual, and hopefully the opportunity comes. And whatever decision the coach makes, just move on from there.”
Amagat was hand-selected by Torrent after coaching the 33-year-old a dozen years ago at Girona in Spain. Torrent called the veteran multifaceted – a quality he highly values.
But Awuah’s own flexibility could keep him at the forefront for Torrent and the NYCFC coaching staff.
When asked what attracted him most to Awuah during the college recruiting process, Reid answered with one word: “Versatility.”