A lot has changed for Columbus Crew SC since the team’s 2015 MLS Cup appearance, but when Black & Gold fans looked to the right side of the field in each match over the last four years, they knew exactly what (or who) they would find.
The fourth-longest tenured player of the current roster — after only midfielders Federico Higuain, Wil Trapp and Hector Jimenez — right back Harrison Afful has become a staple to the club and, just four months short of the fourth anniversary of his arrival to Columbus, he’s about to reach an important milestone with the Crew.
When the Ghanaian international steps on the field at MAPFRE Stadium on Saturday to face reigning MLS Cup winners Atlanta United, he’ll be playing his 100th Major League Soccer regular season match in a Black & Gold uniform.
“To me, it means I’ve been doing a good job here,” he told Massive Report when he first heard about the upcoming milestone this week. “I had never thought I’d be here for so long, but I feel this club is just a good fit for me and the coaching staff and the fans had always had a big belief in me. It’s a good feeling and I hope I can continue playing for Columbus for many years to come.”
Despite Afful’ss confessed lack of long-term aspirations when he first arrived in Columbus, staying at the same club for several years has just been a trend in his career. The World Cup veteran played for Ghana’s Feyenoord Academy from 2005 to 2009, recording 148 appearances for the club.
He also played for Asante Kotoko in his home country on a loan contract, but after that he has his first experience overseas at Tunisia’s EC Tunis, where he was fielded in 118 matches between 2009 and 2015.
“I feel really blessed for that,” he said about his long-lasting tenures. “I’m very grateful for the time I had at my previous clubs. I think no player ever wants to go to a team and then to get transferred shortly after that, but each of us had a different path and a different destiny and I believe this is mine. My career was supposed to be this way and I just have to deal with it.”
Afful’s longstanding success with the Crew can be easily explained by his extraordinary fit with the team’s playing under both former head coach Gregg Berhalter and current boss Caleb Porter. Known for his ability to create chances, the Ghanaian, who has recorded five goals and 12 assists in his first 99 regular season matches with the Crew, found in Columbus a team which gave him the green light to push forward.
“I think my attacking ability works well with the way both Gregg and Caleb like to play,” he explained. “That made it easier for me to stick around for so long. Our fullbacks also have an attacking role, we’re not just there to defend. We get to the final third and try to put crosses in for the striker and also to score ourselves. That’s my mindset and it has helped me to succeed here.”
Another factor that contributed to Afful’s longevity in Columbus was the fact that he found himself at home during most of his time here. With the club having other Ghanians in Jonathan Mensah, Lalas Abubakar, Mohammed Abu and Edward Opoku all on the roster over the last few years, it was easy for him not to miss home so much.
After each training session, it’s absolutely common to see all of them hanging out together, making fun of each other and joking in the Twi language.
“They make my life a lot easier here,” the fullback added. “Just having them around and hanging out, it’s great, but it’s not only them. This team is really like a family and we all have a lot of fun together.”
But Afful is not a favorite just around his teammates. Because of his extrovert personality and his outgoing dressing style, he also became one of the most popular players with the Black & Gold fan base.
Oh, and don’t forget, of course, his unparalleled Twitter handle @thekingharrison.
“To be honest, I don’t even know how it started,” he laughed. “I think a friend suggested it and I liked. Actually, I love the power of the word king. I think of it as someone who’s a leader and people look up to and get inspired by, so I thought it would be a good idea.”
The first 100 matches for the Crew have been successful for Harrison, but how many more does he plan to play at 32 years old?
Well, that’s one of the few questions he doesn’t have an answer for.
“The future is always bright for me,” he said with a smile. “I want to keep playing for a long time, as long and I’m healthy. I love to play and while the Crew wants me back, I’d be glad to be here. It’s up for them and they know I’ll be here if they need me.
“The thing is, you never know about your future and if today you’re here, tomorrow you can be somewhere else. Soccer takes you places and to me, it’s about leaving a good name and keeping the doors open to return in the future if that’s the case. My approach has always been the same, regardless of the time I’ve been here. I always think that the club chose me and I need to work as hard as I can to give them good results.”