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Lalas Abubakar is ready to step up when called on for Columbus Crew SC

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The rookie center back is excited for his first professional opportunity.

MLS: Combine Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

With the fifth pick in the 2017 MLS SuperDraft, Columbus Crew SC selected Alhassan “Lalas” Abubakar from the University of Dayton.

After giving up 58 goals during the 2016 Major League Soccer season, tied for the second-worst in the league, head coach Gregg Berhalter’s offseason signings focused on shoring up the Crew SC defense. Along with Homegrown signing Alex Crognale and veteran Josh Williams, Abubakar will compete to unseat Crew SC’s starting center-backs and provide much needed depth to a previously shallow position.

At 6-foot, 180 pounds, Abubakar is a physically imposing presence, and Dennis Currier, Abubakar’s coach at Dayton, knew that Lalas was a player Dayton needed immediately after watching Lalas play.

“We got our eyes on him and right away we were like, that’s the one; we went very hard after Lalas,” Currier told Massive Report.

The head coach was initially worried that Abubakar would make the jump to Europe instead of playing at Dayton, but Currier cites the Abubakar family’s commitment to education as a major reason why Lalas decided to play for Dayton. As he explained, “(in Ghana) most kids stop (going to school) when they’re after (essentially) junior high school and then they go try and play pro, but in Lalas’ case, his parents kept him in schooling.”

Once Currier was able to get Abubakar on campus and training with Dayton, Lalas’ commitment to winning and becoming the best player that he could immediately stood out.

“One of the first times I ever met with him, I was trying to explain to him about the college system and he said, ‘I come there to hoist the A-10 championship,’” Currier said. “Then sure enough, the second year we win the A-10 championship with him playing a critical role.”

Though Abubakar has moved to a new city, team, and league, he joins a Crew SC team that has three other Ghanian players. The opportunity to play with national teamers Jonathan Mensah and Harrison Afful is a dream come true for Abubakar.

“I’ve watched them a lot and seen them in the national team,” he said. “Big-time players, so I’m really excited to start working with them and learn from them as my teammates.”

Signing with Crew SC requires strong commitment to Berhalter’s system, with center backs often initiating play out of the back. Having played in a possession-oriented system in college, Currier was confident of Lalas’ ability to play with the ball at his feet.

“We play out of the back and he’s got a good possession rate,” Currier said.

Abubakar proved this at the MLS Combine when he moved from his normal role on the back line to defensive midfield to show his abilities on the ball. “He was only dispossessed twice and he connected another 23, 24 passes,” Currier remembered.

Lalas also is confident in his ability to play in his new team’s system.

“I’m really athletic and I really use my athleticism a lot in the game,” he said following being selected by the Black & Gold.

“They brought [the three new center-backs] in because they think we can play in the system, I think our system is a great system, the coaches believe in us, that we can play out of the back.”

Although he didn’t get the start when Jonathan was out suspended last week, Abubakar has made two consecutive bench appearances. The coaching staff used Lalas frequently in preseason, along with Jonathan, Nicolai Naess and Josh Williams and have continued to provide him with positive feedback in the early portion of his rookie year.

“Coach has always tried me and Nico, and then Josh and Jonathan . . . so, I think it shouldn’t be a problem because the chemistry is there,” Lalas said for his first opportunity.

“Even in the preseason we have played with Josh and Jonathan and Alex, I think we are ready, I think the coaches have done a great job trying to mix anyone.”