Local Spotlight

Local Spotlight: Yosef Samuel

Fluffy, warm, fresh off the griddle, slathered in butter, drenched in syrup…Pancakes. Yes, that’s right, pancakes. When 10-year-old Yosef Samuel was adopted and moved from his birthplace in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to Atlanta, Georgia, pancakes were his go to, only favorite meal.

“Yoyo,” as he is known by teammate, recently turned 20, and he has been making continued improvements and giving Bethlehem Steel head coach Brendan Burke more and more reason to put him in the match day 18, a feat Yoyo has accomplished 14 matches in a row.

Steel FC are currently boasting an organization record eight match unbeaten streak following a gritty 1-1 draw vs Pittsburgh Riverhounds this past Saturday, July 15th. Both Samuel and Steel FC look to extend their streaks as they travel to Richmond to face the Kickers on the 22nd with a kickoff set for 7PM Eastern time. Bethlehem are sporting a flashy 5-0-3 record dating back to May 25th.

Ethiopia to the USA

Samuel made the move to the USA with his brother Daniel, which was something he confided helped him tremendously. He is now a sibling to eight others. When asked of the transition he said, “To be honest, it wasn’t that bad. My brother was with me. I went to school right next to my house. It wasn’t that hard.” Atlanta possesses a rather large Ethiopian community nearby, which Samuel says made communication and overall adjustments simpler and smoother.

“I always wanted to come to the United States.  That was a big goal of mine.”

Yosef Samuel (#49) – Signed his professional contract in September 2016; debuted September 25th  as a second half substitute against Orlando City B. Photo courtesy of Bethlehem Steel FC.

Samuel’s No. 1 soccer memory is playing in the streets of Ethiopia at age seven with all his friends. The soccer never stopped.

“We’d play before school, after school… All the time.”

He is now a hard-working member of a successful, professional soccer club, Bethlehem Steel FC and is working towards MLS and international aspirations both on and off the pitch.

While in Atlanta, Samuel played for Kalonji Soccer Academy, otherwise known as simply KSA. The Philadelphia Union scout and development teams witnessed Samuel play in showcase tournaments in Disney and at nationals. During this time, Samuel played forward, where his hustle and determination proved to be major assets.

Recently, Samuel has been seeing a lot of the pitch from the midfield and has also filled in up top from time to time. Samuel enjoys creating chances for teammates, and given his desire to be a playmaker, he feels he may excel the most on the wing.

Yoyo with the Academy

In 2014, he became a member of the Philadelphia Union Academy on the U18 squad. He played two seasons with the Academy and his stock slowly rose as progression came easy to Samuel. Moving from Atlanta to the Philly area, starting with a new team with a rigorous developmental process, and having to succeed each and every day — it all happened within a two-year span. Samuel signed professionally in September 2016 with Bethlehem Steel following his graduation from Union Academy.

Yosef Samuel (#49) looks up-field for a connecting pass. Photo courtesy of Bethlehem Steel FC.

When asked of the quick progression, Samuel stated, “There’s so many things that go on here that you kind of forget how fast everything is going. I’ve been living with other players for the past two years. It’s crazy.”

International experience

Yosef Samuel can play and play well. His skills on the pitch have caught the eyes of U.S. international coaches and development staff alike. Samuel has been called up on three separate occasions to train and prepare for the U20 FIFA World Cup in Korea Republic. His most recent call-up occurred in April of 2017. Samuel was invited to a week-long training session in London with 25 total players. While in London, Samuel attended a Fulham FC match.

“It was great,” he said. “It was my first time being in England…Their [European] style of play is very different than ours.”

“They [European fans] are really passionate over there, and it’s really nice seeing that. It’s very intense.”

Since this had been Samuel’s third time training with this group of U20s, he felt a sense of comfort whenever he returns to a training session.

“I knew a lot of the players going in there,” Samuel said. “When we’re in the hotel or doing other things, it’s easier because you know them and you just have a good time.”

As for the actual training, it can be stressful on the young players.  They attend these sessions knowing they will last around 10 days or so.  They first must gel professionally and cohesively with all new players in the camp. They then must make sure they are performing well for coaches while adjusting to new players and systems. To top it all off, they culminate two or three days of practice into a precise performance against top-class international competition in hopes of continued success. Oh, and they’re expected to return to their normal teams, in this case back to USL for players like Samuel, without any discrepancies or hiccups. That’s a lot on one plate. A lot more than pancakes for Samuel to handle.

But like previously mentioned, these players rely on the relationships they build with their fellow teammates to get them through the grueling process. “When I see those faces of the players I play with and against,” Samuel said, “it’s a good thing and it’s exciting to be apart of that.”

A continued involvement in the U.S. international camps is something Samuel looks forward to and works diligently for every day.  “I want to play at the highest level professionally I can.”

Off-the-pitch aspirations

Off the field, Samuel is a rather interesting guy. He resides in the Philadelphia suburb King of Prussia and travels into Philly whenever he can. Some hobbies include dancing and photography. One of his dreams — one among many — would be to make people laugh as a stand-up comedian.

But perhaps a more ambitious dream of Samuel’s is to make positive impacts on children in surrounding communities as well as his native country Ethiopia. He would love to begin a charity or work with existing ones to create positive change. “Exposure” was discussed a lot during our brief conversation. Samuel views a child’s future in simple terms: If you provide a child an opportunity to experience a culture outside of his/her own normal everyday experience, you could begin to enhance the child’s imagination. It is pretty difficult to argue with that logic. Samuel says he personally has benefited from moving across the globe and settling into a new culture as a child.

“Just by getting the children outside of Philly and providing them with a chance to travel and to see other things that they’re not used to, different things, they can begin dreaming about getting out from one place to the other,” Samuel said. “I feel like that’s one thing that’s important for me…I love when people experience different cultures and that has helped me interact with different types of people…It has made me a better all-around person.”

Samuel continues his progression here in America and never forgets his roots.

After this interview, I am making a new goal for myself: travel to Philadelphia, visit one of the four Ethiopian restaurants that Samuel swears by, and order the main dish, Doro Wat. It may not be pancakes, but its one of Samuel’s favorites.

4 Comments

  1. Thanks for this

  2. Looking forward to seeing Yoyo and Fafa on the pitch together.

  3. Matt McClain says:

    No problem Osager. Proud and happy to profile Yosef.

  4. Great stuff, Matt.

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