Jan. 22, 2019 will be a day Aboubacar Keita will remember for the rest of his life. That was the day the 18-year-old center back signed his first professional contract with his hometown Columbus Crew SC. After the Crew Academy came into operation in 2007, Keita is just the 12th player to sign a Homegrown contract with the first team and is enjoying his first weeks with soccer as a job.
“It’s been fun so far,” Keita told Massive Report. “Coming home, the guys have all been welcoming. We have a couple of the Academy guys [in preseason camp] which helps. I’m just excited to help the team wherever I can.”
Keita joins midfielder Wil Trapp and defender Alex Crognale as the current active players on the Black & Gold’s roster who have been signed to a Homegrown contract.
As a young guy, just a year removed from high school, adjusting to being a professional soccer player could be difficult. But the Crew’s locker room has long been a welcoming one and the senior players have had no problem with introducing Keita to life in the professional sports world.
“I’ve talked to Alex, Justin Meram, and Pat [Mullins]. It’s been nice talking to them and how to handle certain things and they’ve been helpful so far,” Keita said.
It helps that Keita was already familiar with the club and his now permanent teammates. Last year as a senior at Westerville North High School, just a 20-minute drive from MAPFRE Stadium, Keita took part in the club’s preseason, even starting in the Carolina Challenge Cup win over the Charleston Battery last February. He then spent large chunks of his summer training with the Crew and taking part in occasional scrimmages against college sides.
The time in the Academy, where he’s been since 2016, and working with the first team helped prepare him for his lone season in college, where he appeared in all 17 games for a University of Virginia team that made a run to the third round of the NCAA Tournament. Keita also has experience at the youth national team level appearing for the United State’s Under-19 and Under-20 teams and recently earning a call-up to a U-20 training camp.
Being a part of the new era of the Crew, Keita has seen a lot of similarities between head coach Caleb Porter’s style of play and the of former head coach Gregg Berhalter, whom he worked with during his time with the first team last year. He knows that in being a center back in this system, under Porter or Berhalter, he has to be comfortable with the ball at his feet coming out of the back, something he feels more secure about with each passing training session.
At the end of the day, Keita is excited to have signed his Homegrown contract with the club and wants to help continue the success that Columbus-based players like Trapp and Crognale have had in recent years. As a first-year player, though, Keita just wants to help his hometown team wherever he can.
“As a rookie, [I’d like to] maybe get some games in and just help the team as much as possible,” said Keita. “Whether on the training field or in games, just whatever I can do to help the team win.”