African representation in Major League Soccer increase
When the new season of Major League Soccer kicks off at the weekend, all but three of the 24 teams in the north American league will have representation from Africa.
A total of 44 players are drawn from 19 different countries and do not include the players of African heritage who have gone on to play for either Canada or the United States at national team or junior level.
It is a significant representation for the continent whose numbers have been bolstered by several high profile signings.
Champions Atlanta United have strengthened their squad with Guinea international Florentin Pogba, the elder brother of France’s World Cup winner Paul.
Centre-back Pogba, 28, moved last month from Turkey’s Genclerbirligi but has yet to debut for his new club, who begin the defence of their title on Sunday at DC United.
There are also high expectations for Striker Orji Okwonkwo has been loaned to Montreal Impact from Serie A outfit Bologna. He had moved to Italy after scoring for Nigeria at the U-17 World Cup in Chile in 2015.
Last year Montreal loaned Algerian international Saipher Taider from Bologna and are keeping him for another season.
FC Cincinnati are the latest franchise to join MLS and make their debut away at Seattle Sounders on Saturday with Hassan Ndam (Cameroon) and Fanendo Adi (Nigeria) in their inaugural squad plus Gambia-born striker Kekuta Manneh, last year called up to join the US national team squad but not yet capped.
Manneh returns to MLS after a stint with St Gallen in Switzerland and is one of the marquee players for the new club.
Other African stars in MLS include diminutive Ghana international Harrison Afful, whose performances last season for Columbus Crew saw him rated the league’s best right fullback.
Two DR Congo internationals Larrys Mabiala and Chris Mavinga, both born in France, are regulars while David Accam has played for Ghana, Michael Azira for Uganda and Mohamed El Munir and Ismael Tajouri are expected to feature for Libya next month as they seek to qualify for the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations finals at the expense of South Africa.
Senegal fullback Lamine Sane, 31, moved from Werder Bremen in the Bundesliga to join Orlando City last year.
Abdul Rwatubyaye becomes the first Rwandan in MLS after joining Sporting Kansas City from Kigal’s Rayon Sport last month (FEB) while Liberia’s Sam Johnson has moved after spells in Sweden, China and Norway to join Real Salt Lake.
San Jose Earthquakes drafted the 190-year-old Sami Haji, born in a Kenyan refugee camp to Somali parents, from Virginia Commonwealth University where he was a regular goal-scorer.
Other new African faces include Abidjan-born Jean-Christophe Koffi, who has come through the American college system and signed for New York Red Bulls, where former South Africa international Bradley Carnell is assistant coach.
The teenage midfielder Clement Bayiha has signed a professional deal with Montreal Impact, three years after moving from Yaounde to join their academy.
Ghana midfielder Ebenezer Ofori has returned to New York City after a season-long loan with VfB Stuttgart in Germany. Ofori made his Black Stars debut at the start of the 2019 Nations Cup qualifying campaign.
The new MLS season kicks off on Saturday with 10 games followed by two more on Sunday.
The only three MLS outfits without African representation are Chicago Fire, DC United and Houston Dynamo.
African players in the MLS
Atlanta United: Florentin Pogba (Guinea), Patrick Okonkwo (Nigeria)
FC Cincinnati: Hassan Ndam (Cameroon), Kekuta Manneh (Gambia), Fanendo Adi (Nigeria)
Colorado Rapids: Nana Boateng, Kofi Opare (both Ghana), Kei Kamara (Sierra Leone)
Columbus Crew: Lalas Abubakar, Harrison Afful, Jonathan Mensah, Edward Opoku (all Ghana)
FC Dallas: Francis Atuahene, Ema Twumasi (both Ghana), Dominique Badji (Senegal)
Los Angeles FC: Latif Blessing (Ghana), Mohamed El Munir (Libya)
Los Angeles Galaxy: Emmanuel Boateng (Ghana)
Minnesota United: Abu Danladi (Ghana)
Montreal Impact: Saphir Taider (Algeria), Michael Azira (Uganda), Clement Bayiha (Cameroon), Orji Okwonkwo (Nigeria), Clement Diop (Senegal)
New England Revolution: Wilfried Zahibo (Ivory Coast)
New York City: Ebenezer Ofori (Ghana), Ismael Tajouri (Libya), Sebastien Ibeagha (Nigeria)
New York Red Bulls: Amro Tarek (Egypt), Jean Christophe Koffi (Ivory Coast)
Orlando City: Lamine Sane (Senegal)
Philadelphia Union: Olivier Mbaizo (Cameroon), David Accam (Ghana)
Portland Timbers: Larrys Mabiala (DR Congo), Modou Jadama (Gambia)
Real Salt Lake: Sam Johnson (Liberia)
San Jose Earthquakes: Siad Haji (Somalia/Kenya)
Seattle Sounders: Nouhou Tolo (Cameroon), Handwalla Bwana (Somalia/Kenya)
Sporting Kansas: Gerson Fernandes (Guinea Bissau), Abdul Rwatubyaye (Rwanda)
Toronto FC: Chris Mavinga (DR Congo)
Vancouver Whitecaps: Lass Bangoura (Guinea), Jasser Khmiri (Tunisia)