by JAKE NUTTING
After waiting patiently for two weeks, Tampa Bay Rowdies supporters are likely to finally get their first glimpse of midfielder Kwadwo Poku when the club travels to face Eastern Conference frontrunner FC Cincinnati this Saturday night.
Supporters may have been anxious to see Poku on the field, he’s been just as eager to get out there with his new teammates while waiting for his international transfer to come through. During last weekend’s 2-1 loss to Louisville City, Poku was standing close to the sidelines at center field, urging his teammates on and giving the occasional direction.
“You wanna be on the field,” Poku said with a big smile. “Especially because when you’re on the outside, you can tell maybe what you could’ve done to help the team and you don’t have the chances. I just tried to talk to some of the guys as much as I can because I think we have one ambition here; to win. Some of those games are really important to get something out of it. I just do my part to help as much as I can.”
Poku’s eagerness to push himself and drive his teammates to be at their best hasn’t gone unnoticed since he joined the club in training nearly a month ago.
“Poku’s shown everything in training with his technical ability that we knew had,” Rowdies head coach Neill Collins said. “One thing he’s shown us is leadership. Every team needs leaders. You can never have too many leaders and Poku’s really impressed me with that. He’s been great around the dressing room. He’s been great on the training ground. He’s demanding in a good way. That’s an aspect we need on the team in the center of the park.”
Collins is confident the supporters will be getting a “top, top player” sooner rather than later, though he cautioned it may take a match or two for Poku to reach his full potential. While Poku’s been training with the Rowdies for several weeks, it’s been quite a while since the midfielder’s been gotten consistent playing minutes. Poku parlayed two outstanding seasons with Miami FC into a transfer to the Russian Premier League’s FC Anzhi Makhachkala, where he made only 3 appearances.
“It was different. Playing in the states for a while, moving overseas, everything was different. Everything,” Poku said. “At the same time it was really a good experience playing in the Russian league. It’s a good competitive league. It was something a little different to me, but that is what we live for. Those are the things we always expect.”
This is not the first time Poku has been involved a midsummer transfer to a club in Florida after struggling to become a fulltime starter. His move from MLS’ New York City down to Miami FC two summers ago worked out extremely well. Miami turned its entire season around and became the NASL’s top team the following year.
“I see the whole objective, what (the Rowdies) are trying to do. It’s really something similar to what Miami did, and obviously that was successful,” he said. “It’s a good group of good guys here. Everybody’s on the same boat. We have the same mindset to create something. It’s exciting. I’m happy about it. It’s a really similar situation for me. I’m really looking forward to it, especially getting in the games and getting the win. The most important thing for me is we get in the playoffs and we can take it from there.”
Ironically, Poku’s Rowdies debut will likely be against some of his ex-Miami teammates, who are now contributing to Cincinnati’s excellent season. Richie Ryan, Michael Lahoud and Blake Smith were all equally important to Miami’s resurgence last year.
“They were all good guys. They’re all good mates. We spent a lot of time together training and playing together. I’m looking forward to Saturday. It’ll be a good game.”
With Poku, the Rowdies are adding a dynamic force to the midfield. Along with his attacking skills and ability to open up opportunity for others, Poku also isn’t shy about doing some defensive work and helping his side control the midfield. Many Rowdies supporters likely missed the best of his time in Miami last year, as the two clubs were no longer in the same league. Poku is hopeful he can make an immediate and positive impression on those supporters with his skills.
“I’m a guy who likes to attack, who likes to get forward, who likes to create chances. Sometimes it gets different. It depends on the game how the coach wants me to play. I think the fans will know who I am in the weeks to come.”