Gyau a killer blend of speed and flair
The father-and-son video sessions -- tutorials, if you will -- could come at any time.
After breakfast, before practice, during a family gathering. In his Silver Spring, Md., living room, Phillip Gyau showed his young boy Joseph tapes of some of the world's greatest strikers.
Maradona. Pele. Ronaldo.
This is how you play the game, Phillip told Joseph, over and over and over again. Attack, attack, attack; use your speed and dribbling skills to overwhelm defenders; never stop coming at them.
"Those players have power, speed and skill," Joseph Gyau said. "They are so creative. I especially like watching Ronaldo and was always like, 'Yeah, I want to be like that one day'.''
Gyau, now 16, is a long way from Ronaldo's stratosphere. Still, Ronaldo himself might smile if he saw Gyau's magic on the pitch. His game is a lot of things: Big, electric and most of all fearless, with just a little bit of Brazilian flair.
Gyau (pronounced "Jow") plays striker for the U.S. national U-17 residency program in Bradenton, Fla. For now, anyway. He and his father, who played for the U.S. national team from 1989-91, say he will leave for Germany after next summer's U-17 World Cup in Nigeria to play for one of Bayern Munich's youth teams.
Gyau had a successful two-week trial with Bayern Munich last summer and has also drawn interest from Stuttgart and, in England, Chelsea and Manchester United.
"The first time I saw Joseph was four years ago [at Youth Professional Training in Lancaster, Pa.] when I was still working for Manchester United. I let them know about him right away, about his sheer raw ability," said Mick Priest, now a youth assistant coach with Oldham Athletic in England's League One. "In my time at [Manchester United's] academy, he was as good as any player. Honestly."
Priest, who also runs Oldham's center for excellence, said he's been trying to get Gyau into England to play for years. However, Priest and Phillip Gyau both said visa problems have stopped Joseph playing in England.
"A team is going to have to pay millions for Joseph when they could have had him for nothing," said Priest, who last saw Gyau play as recently as last year at YPT. "I'd walk all over hot coals to get Joseph. He's just such an exciting player and so level-headed."
Told nobody talks about American players like this, Priest replied: "I think he could play for a first division team by the time he's 18."
Sure, all the flashy videos helped Gyau develop. But Phillip -- whose own dad, Joseph, played for the Ghana national team before coming to the U.S. with his family to play for Washington in the old North American Soccer League -- had even bigger plans for his boy: An exchange program.
Phillip Gyau made frequent trips to Brazil to visit friends like Zico, the so-called White Pele and another former Brazilian national player, Claudio Adao, whom he met playing beach soccer in the U.S. On one trip in the mid-1990s, he saw a nine-year-old Brazilian boy with exquisite skills. He could control the ball as well as Zico and Adao, Gyau says, juggling the ball hundreds of times.
"I was looking at that kid and projecting," said Phillip Gyau, a former striker himself, named the MVP of the now-defunct American Professional Soccer League in 1990. "I wanted Joseph to do those kinds of things; I wanted him to grow up like that. I wanted to expose him to that kind of stuff."
So Zico and Adao sent Gyau back home with some drills for Joseph, then four. Work on the kid's first touch, how he receives the ball and his juggling skills. At age seven, Joseph was ready. His dad sent him to Rio de Janeiro to train at Zico's soccer academy for several summers. When he wasn't in Rio, Joseph trained every day at his dad's camps back home in Maryland.
"I was a little nervous about going to Brazil at first," Joseph Gyau said. "It was my first time out of the country, but after a few days I was OK. It was a great experience. I saw a lot of players with skill. It gave me a lot of variety.
"In America, they want you to play simple. But in Brazil, I got the chance to take on people one-on-one. That's helped me with my explosiveness today."
That's what makes Gyau -- 5-foot-8, 145 pounds -- so lethal. His has the speed of a sprinter, and he cuts in all directions. What makes him most devastating is his ability to stop at full speed and start right back up.
"I've coached some great attacking players, but I've never seen a youth player with that kind of speed, who could change directions and maintain that kind of speed," said Alan Mezger, who coached Gyau's FC Delco U-15 team last year. FC Delco, based in eastern Pennsylvania, has produced several American pros, including Ben Olsen, Jeremiah White and Jeff Larentowicz.
Adds Mezger about Gyau: "He plays with a lot of pace. His ability to break down defenders is very rare in the U.S. Joseph is just a special player."
Gyau usually made at least one move a game that completely devastated a defender. Last year, in one game for FC Delco, Gyau beat a sacrificial lamb with a quick cut to his right. The defender was out of the play.
But Gyau cut to his left. And with the defender flailing, about to fall down, Gyau went back to his right. He put the ball through the kid's legs and continued his laser-like runs.
"When I make moves, they come in a split second," Gyau says. "When you hear all the oohs and ahs from the crowd, you just want to do more. You beat a person and hear the crowd, you want to beat them again and again."
Gyau would sometimes take on an entire team, dribbling through player after player, before netting a goal. Still, even the best of players often end up dusting themselves off on the grass after all-out runs like that. With the residency team, head coach Wilmer Cabrera, a former Colombian national player, has allowed Gyau to push the ball feverishly up the pitch, while developing his distributing and shot on goal.
In the past Phillip Gyau says coaches, including one in the U.S. system, tried bottling up his speedy son, telling him to give up the ball more and not dribble as much.
For Joseph, it was like playing in slow motion.
"I told Joseph, 'If you play like that, you will never have success,'" the father says. "Those players are a dime a dozen. You have to be a difference-maker. Go out there and just run at the defenders."
No, Joseph Gyau's never stopped running. Just like all his heroes in those videos he still watches.
Justin Rodriguez covers the USL, NCAA and youth soccer for ESPNsoccernet. He is the soccer writer for the Times Herald-Record in Middletown, N.Y., and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.