Get to know the Impact’s new 18-year-old centre-back
When you sign your first professional contract at 18 years old, the chances of finding yourself on the first team’s bench less than a week later are usually slim. Of course, it went down a little differently for the Impact’s newest Homegrown signing, Karifa Yao.
After joining the Impact’s first team, Yao found himself in the 18 a few days later, when the Impact took on the Seattle Sounders FC. He took part in the pregame ritual 90 minutes before kick-off, greeting supporters on his way to the locker room; he was there as head coach Rémi Garde gave his final orders; he was there when Saphir Taïder gave a passionate speech about the importance of winning.
For his former coach and the director of the Impact Academy, Phillippe Eullaffroy, these are moments that will follow him forever.
“It will mark him for life,” said Eullaffroy. “It’s moments he’ll never forget. From an emotional standpoint, the effect it can have is enormous. When it comes to his career, it is an extremely powerful start. The fact that he was a part of these types of moments makes him better already.”
Phillippe Eullaffroy has seen Yao progress since joining the Academy, vastly improving the technical and tactical parts of his game over the years, areas in which the youngster had to progress if he hoped to ever sign a contract with the first team.
“He was solid this year, very solid, at the level we were expecting,” continued Eullaffroy. “He was excellent in duels, with technical and tactical qualities that became evident. He’s progressed so much, which makes him the ultimate modern defender. Of course, he has a lot of potential and a large margin of progression, but we’re proud of what he’s accomplished to get here.”
Described by Eullaffroy as someone who is always in control, calm, easy to manage and always smiling, Yao wasn’t signed to have an immediate impact. The centre-back position is a busy one at the Impact at the moment, with Zakaria Diallo, Rudy Camacho, Victor Cabrera, Jukka Raitala and even Thomas Meilleur-Giguère, currently on loan with Ottawa Fury FC, all in the same department as the youngster.
“It’s a long-term signing,” said Impact head coach Rémi Garde. “There are obviously players in front of him, but Karifa can represent the future of this club. He presents the Academy’s good work and he represents hope for the young players working hard at the Academy. There is a way through, taken by Mathieu, Clément, Daniel, and others. It’s important to value these players and give them an opportunity to progress.”