Kwadwo Poku: Stuck on the outside looking in

ORLANDO, FL - JUNE 14: Orlando City SC midfielder Lius Gil (17) and Miami FC midfielder Kwadwo Poku (10) go for the ball during the Open Cup soccer match between Miami FC and Orlando City SC on June 14, 2017 at Orlando City Stadium in Orlando FL. (Photo by Joe Petro/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
ORLANDO, FL - JUNE 14: Orlando City SC midfielder Lius Gil (17) and Miami FC midfielder Kwadwo Poku (10) go for the ball during the Open Cup soccer match between Miami FC and Orlando City SC on June 14, 2017 at Orlando City Stadium in Orlando FL. (Photo by Joe Petro/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) /

The prolific and dynamic Kwadwo Poku is arguably one of the top players playing in the United States after two strong seasons with Miami FC.

Poku. Anyone who knows how the name is associated with US Soccer is probably well aware of Ghana born midfielder Kwadwo Poku, currently playing with Miami FC in the NASL. For those who aren’t aware, Poku is a classic case of someone who slipped through the cracks, took advantage of his opportunities, and found additional successes again and again.

Speed, power, technical ability, determination, and passion are all qualities that Poku has and are the tools he used to break into the US Soccer scene, first in the US Open Cup. His rise and exposure in the Open Cup have done nothing but showcase his skills as a true underdog, and time after time Poku proved he was more than able to take the game over himself, despite playing against higher competition.

His efforts have not gone unnoticed either. After standing out with the Georgia Revolution in NPSL, Poku signed his first professional contract with the Atlanta Silverbacks in the NASL under head coach Eric Wynalda, who had nothing but praise for Poku, even going as far to say in 2014 that Poku was already ” potentially too good for MLS.”

After single-handedly knocking Real Salt Lake out of the Open Cup in that same 2014 season, NYCFC head coach Jason Kreis chose to sign Poku to an MLS contract for the club’s inaugural season. Despite being in competition for minutes with a roster that included Frank Lampard, Andrea Pirlo, USMNT hopeful Mix Diskerud, and MLS veterans Ned Grabavoy, Andrew Jacobson, and Mehdi Ballochy, Poku was still able to establish himself as a regular with 27 appearances, most coming as a game-changing sub, and finishing out the 2015 season with four goals and seven assists.

His performance got the attention of former USMNT coach Jurgen Klinsmann as a potential piece for the national team. In 2016, he was then sold to Miami FC, a new NASL club looking turn around their poor start and still make a significant splash in their debut season, for rumored for a fee to be close to $700,000.

Miami FC

Poku’s time with Miami FC has been nothing short of extraordinary. He’s been the centerpiece of a potent Miami FC attack that scored 61 goals in 32 NASL games over the Spring and Fall season, finishing atop the combined standing by a whopping 24 points ahead of their closest competitor. Miami was also able to put together an impressive US Open Cup run. After a brief scare against PDL side South Florida Surf, Miami took care of the Tampa Bay Rowdies before then going on to upset Orlando City 4-1 and Atlanta United 3-2, with an extra time game-winner from Poku himself.

Poku’s play garnered the attention of the Ghana National Football Team, who included him in their squad for September’s World Cup Qualifying matches.

Despite all the promise from 2017, Poku’s future remains in limbo. Miami FC’s season is still on hold for 2018 while the NASL awaits the outcome of their anti-trust suit against USSF. Seven Miami FC players had their contract options declined while starting forward Stefano Pinho signed with Orlando City SC. Everything else surrounding the club and their future has been quiet, which includes what is going to happen with Poku.

The MLS Allocation List

While the actual amount of Poku’s transfer fee was never disclosed, it was great enough to land him on the MLS Allocation List along with USMNT regulars and promising US Youth players playing abroad.  Thanks to his inclusion on the list, he would be subject to the Allocation Order if he was to return to play in MLS.

The list is populated by some impressive names, most notably Christian Pulisic, but also including Fabian Castillo, Obafemi Martins, and Octavio Rivero, who all have had their share of MLS success. For Poku to come back into MLS, it becomes an issue of having a team willing to use their spot in the Allocation List and potentially giving up their shot at a former MLS standout or a USMNT standout.

That is no slight to Poku, who would immediately make an impact on several MLS rosters and would be considered a more impressive signing than most of the others included, but he may not have the same flash and flair of a USMNT signing. With Miami FC’s future unclear, MLS teams may already have Poku on their radar.

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There may be a potential option for him to get around the list by joining an MLS Expansion candidate. Nashville SC is already confirmed for 2019 while currently building their roster for the 2018 USL season. Candidates FC Cincinnati has already made several impressive signings from the NASL, and Sacramento Republic could use Poku on the field while they try to save their bid off the field.

Unless he is picked from the allocation list, a move to Cincinnati seems like the most likely bet given how they’ve done this off-season and the likelihood of being the next team announced as an MLS team. Poku could feel right at home with his NASL cohorts, while also being in the perfect place to make a run as a US Open Cup underdog one last time.