Adam Kwarasey knew he was ready for a change months before he made the official announcement.
The 27-year-old goalkeeper had spent seven seasons competing for Norwegian Tippeligaen side Strømsgodset, a club based just 30 miles west of his birthplace of Oslo, Norway.
He had gone from fighting for playing time as 19-year-old rookie, to leading his team to a 2010 Norwegian Football Cup title as the starting keeper, to captaining his club as it won its second ever league title in 2013. He was even named goalkeeper of the year following the championship season.
But after all the accomplishments and accolades, Kwarasey no longer felt like he was being tested. Attending trainings and playing in games felt routine.
He wanted a new challenge.
So, at the end of October the highly decorated goalkeeper announced that he would be leaving Strømsgodset after his contract expired at the end of the 2014 season.
“I felt that I had accomplished everything that I could in Norway,” Kwarasey said. “I just wanted a change. I wanted to get out there and experience a new country and a new culture and a new league.”
Portland Timbers general manager Gavin Wilkinson takes numerous scouting trips to countries all across the world each year. During these trips, he watches dozens of games, takes notes and files away the names of players that stand out. When he returns to Portland, he adds the new names to a general list of potential targets.
Wilkinson first came across Kwarasey on one of these general scouting trips in the first half of 2014.
The Timbers weren’t looking for a goalkeeper at the time: Their starting keeper, Donovan Ricketts, was coming off a career-year and had been named the 2013 MLS Goalkeeper of the Year only a few months prior.
But Wilkinson liked what he saw in Kwarasey, so he filed the goalkeeper’s name away.
“He has a presence in goal,” Wilkinson said. “He’s obviously an accomplished individual and he can play with his feet. He’s able to play a high line. He’s able to play out of the back.”
After the end of a disappointing 2014 season, where Portland failed to make the MLS Cup Playoffs by just one point, Timbers coach Caleb Porter and his staff began working to identify positional targets for the offseason.
It wasn’t an easy decision. Ricketts, 37 was still a very good goalkeeper and one of Porter’s favorite players to coach. But the Timbers decided that it was time to find a younger keeper that could grow with the club over the next few years.
“We decided to make that move,” Porter said. “When we started looking for goalkeepers, Adam was a guy that fit our style. He’s a good guy, good character, very experienced and we felt he would be a good fit.”
Timbers goalkeeper coach Mike Toshack re-watched more than 14 of Kwarasey’s recent games with both Strømsgodset and the Ghana National Team. He said he was particularly impressed with Kwarasey’s composure and professionalism in a challenging international friendly between Ghana and Holland leading up to the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
In the winter, Toshack finally made the trip to Norway to see Kwarasey play live.
“He was under a lot of pressure in the game I saw and made some big plays at big moments, which is very important in a goalkeeper,” Toshack said. “Even in his warm ups, his approach, his mentality, you could see his professionalism. He ticked a lot of boxes that you want to have in a goalkeeper.”
At the time, Kwarasey was still weighing his other options, but after long conversations with Porter, Wilkinson and Toshack, he decided that Portland would be the best place for him to take the next step in his career.
“It felt like the right thing and the right move for me, not only for my career, but also for my family,” Kwarasey said. “It’s a place where we can live our lives and I can work hard and achieve something with my new club.”
Kwarasey didn’t arrive in Portland until mid-January.
And he is just now getting settled in his new downtown apartment. His girlfriend and eight-month-old son won’t arrive in Portland to join him until Sunday. He hopes when they get here, he’ll finally have a chance to start exploring his new city.
But he is already very committed to growing with the Timbers and making Portland his home for years to come.
“From now on, it will be vacations in Norway,” Kwarasey said, “and home in Portland.”
Even though Kwarasey has only been training with the Timbers for a few weeks, Porter has already praised his ability to manage a high line and play with his feet. Porter also likes Kwarasey’s professionalism and believes his experience will make him an immediate leader in the locker room.
“I think he’s a good player,” Timbers midfielder Diego Chara said. “He has good experience and has played for his national team. I think he’s good for the team, very good for us.”
While adjusting to a new country and a new league can often be challenging for international players, Kwarasey said that the transition has been very smooth so far. His experience playing for Ghana on the international level has been particularly useful in helping to aid his transition.
“He’s blended in very well with the team and with the guys in front of him,” Toshack said. “I’m happy with the way he’s coming along.”
Kwarasey made the decision to spend the last few weeks with the Timbers in Tucson, Arizona rather than travel to compete in the African Cup of Nations with the Ghana National Team. Ghana made it all the way to the finals in the tournament, before losing to the Ivory Coast on penalty kicks.
Kwarasey has not competed for Ghana since the 2014 FIFA World Cup. He started in goal during Ghana’s opening Group G match against the United States, but was benched the following game.
Since the World Cup, Kwarasey has criticized the Ghana Football Association and its goalkeeper coach and has said that he was treated unfairly in the World Cup. He is still deciding whether he will return to his national team.
“I decided to stay here because I’ve just signed with the Timbers and it would be good to get to know the guys as early as possible,” Kwarasey said. “I’m not sure what I want to do right now in terms of the national team. Hopefully, we can solve our little situation there and I can continue to play international games again because it’s my country and I want to represent my country.”
At the moment, though, Kwarasey’s main focus is on the Timbers.
He knows what it is like to be on a successful team and win trophies, and he wants to be challenged in MLS and succeed. He’s come to Portland to win.
“I play to win and I don’t see the point of playing any professional sports if you don’t want to win,” Kwarasey said. “During my time here, I want to achieve something. When you are done with your career, it’s the memories that you’ll sit with for the rest of your life.”
For more Ghana football news visit www.ghanasoccernet.com
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