Columbus Crew SC Sporting Director and Head Coach Gregg Berhalter has added another brick in his ever-developing team building before the 2017 MLS regular season. With the final touches formulating as Crew SC boarded a plane en route to a two-week preseason camp in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Berhalter and Columbus added experienced midfielder Mohammed Abu as a Special Discovery Player. For a player that's never played in the Western Hemisphere, the 25-year-old Abu enters the Black & Gold with the aura of an old friend — because, in many ways to both the city and his new teammates, he is.
"I’m a professional, and as a professional in this game, I’m ready to do whatever is needed of me by the coaches and team," Abu says upon joining Crew SC from Stromsgodset IF in Norway’s topflight. "I am excited and ready to work. But, again, I think that is expected of me."
With more than 160 appearances across the top leagues in Norway, Spain and France, Abu boasts seasoned grit and UEFA competitive experiences while having yet to enter the typical late-20's physical prime of his career. Although his experiences have taken him through different cities and cultures, Abu says that Columbus is a place that can only be described as comfortable because of his family ties, the fellow Ghanaians in the community and locker room and the opportunity to reunite with old teammates.
"It helps make me very, very … very, very comfortable to come to Columbus," Abu says. "I’ve been to the city maybe three or four times for my family. For me, coming over to work hard while being around Ghanaian players that I know very well — it helps me know this is a place I should be. I know that I will be happy and those are all things that encouraged me to come to Columbus."
Abu's wife, while born in Ghana, spent time throughout her youth in Columbus. Before becoming a member of the Black & Gold, he looked back on his visits with her to the city she grew up in as source of familiarity.
"My wife is from (Columbus)," Abu says. "That makes everything much more exciting. It was something I was hoping for and she was as well. To come to MLS and into a new culture that I can learn and see how a new league works. I am really pleased and just excited to be here. I am ready to work."
Added onto that, Crew SC's Ghanaian representation has grown with the additions of Designated Player Jonathan Mensah and 2017 MLS SuperDraft First-Round selection Lalas Abubakar (No. 5 overall) this offseason. Joining countryman Harrison Afful to bring the contingent to four, Ghana is the second-most represented single nation in Columbus' locker room — behind only the U.S.
Beyond his familial and national connections to his new club, the Namasa, Ghana, native will reconnect with Crew SC forward Ola Kamara. The two played together across three seasons at Stromsgodset IF, combining to raise the Norwegian Football Cup in 2010.
“It’s a really good feeling to be able to be teammates with Ola again," he says. "I remember two or three seasons ago – before he even joined Columbus Crew SC – and he told me he was coming. He knew my wife was from here, and he asked me about it. He’s someone I know very well, and he’s a good player and a good person. I am happy to be able to see him again, because he was always good to me."
While Abu's impact on Crew SC is yet to be seen, the situation he finds himself in with his new team is threaded with already established chemistry and comforts not usually found when joining a new league in a new country halfway across the world. But for Abu, it's little more than his next challenge.
"I’ve played in big qualifiers in my career and played in many different countries, cities and cultures in Europe," Abu says. "Those experiences are important, and I’ve always enjoyed trying my best with my teammates. Now, I think those things will help me and my new teammates."