Sidiki Fofana knows he might get a little homesick this week.
But he also knows it’s nothing he can’t get over with a little soccer.
Fofana, a junior on the Archbishop Ryan High School soccer team, is one of the best players in the country. And because of that, he got an invite to Kansas City to try out for the U-18 National Team during a weeklong showcase. He arrived Sunday and will be there through the beginning of next week, and during his time there, it’s all soccer, soccer and more soccer. That’s nothing new for him.
“This summer I’ve been working nonstop, with games, tryouts and practice, practice and practice, all the time,” said Fofana, who was the leading goal scorer last year as a sophomore for the Raiders. “It’s hard work, but it’s got me to where I want to be. I want to be trying out for a team like this. It’s the best players in the country. The best in the world.”
Fofana was born in Liberia and moved to Northeast Philadelphia in 2011. His mother moved here first and he followed her over shortly after that. It wasn’t an easy transition for Fofana, who spoke little English when he arrived from West Africa, but he quickly adjusted thanks to soccer.
“It’s hard because we gave up everything to come here,” said the 17-year-old Fofana. “Of course it’s hard. You don’t want to lose all your friends and everything, but I’m happy we’re here. I love it here.
“I think soccer has helped. It’s helped to have a good family, too. My mom is great. She’s very strong. She’s a single parent. I have a brother and a sister and I try to be there for them, but she’s a great mom. She does everything for us.”
Mom has a lot to be proud of.
Fofana is an elite-level soccer player. Last year, despite being a sophomore, he was one of the top players in the Catholic League. During his freshman year, he attended Northeast and he was then one of the best players in the Public League, helping the Vikings win a league championship.
Last year, he got by on his God-given talent. This year, he’s going to work hard to show even more improvement. He believes that could make a huge difference in not only his game but the success of the Raiders in the always-tough league.
“I have gotten better in a lot of areas,” said Fofana, who has spent the offseason playing for FC Bucks. “I’m faster, I’m definitely stronger, I’m smarter, I’m a more tactile player and I’m more unselfish. That’s a big thing that can really help. Especially in the Catholic League.
“I’ve worked so hard this offseason. I think it’s a lot of self-discipline, but I have help. I have great coaches in high school and on my club team.”
His success on the club level is what got him the invite to play for the national team, but he’s definitely focused on what he could do this year for Ryan.
The Catholic League will be tough again, but it should also be wide open with many teams making a case to be the best. Why not Ryan?
“Honestly, I think we could be the team to beat,” Fofana said. “Mostly because of the team. We have a lot of guys who were good last year but they got even better. And I know of some of the freshmen coming in who look really good. They have the right attitude. They want to play together and win.
“I think we have the ability to win and win a lot of games. It will be tough, though, and nobody should think we’re going to win. We have to work for everything because there are so many other teams that want the same thing.”
That’s the exact attitude Fofana is going into Kansas with.
He is looking at this as a business trip, but one that can pay dividends not just for him but for the Raiders.
After arriving Sunday night, he went to dinner with other great players. Monday was a day to get adjusted to Kansas and spend more time hanging out with the guys he was competing against.
After that, it was some of the most competitive soccer in the country, at least at the youth level.
“I’m the youngest one out here, so I know it’s going to be hard,” Fofana said. “I know I’m a good player, though, and I’m working as hard as I can. I really want to make this team and see how much better it can make me as a player. Everyone out here is a good player, but I want to show I can be a great player.”
But no matter how he does, he knows he’s going to bring back this experience to Ryan.
The Raiders have a lot of young players, and even though Fofana is just a junior, he realizes he’s going to have to serve as a leader. And the more he learns, the more he can teach.
“Playing out here is only going to make me a better player, a better person and a better leader,” Fofana said. “Playing in the Catholic League makes you a better player and leader. I want to help our guys get better. The better they play, the better our team can play.”
Even if it means being a little homesick
“I’m out here alone, I have a few coaches who are helping me, but no family,” Fofana said. “It’s hard, but I’m having fun. It’s a fun trip. I want to play against the best, and this is giving me the chance.”