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North Texas SC finally has Hope

The young Ghanaian talent signs with NTSC after a year and a half of speculation.

On Friday afternoon, FC Dallas’ second team North Texas SC announced its first personnel move of the 2020/21 offseason, signing young Ghanaian Hope Kodzo Avayevu (aka Hope Kodozo Avayevu; aka Hope Johnson) to a three year deal with two additional club option seasons.

Who is this guy?

The NTSC release linked above does a fine job giving an overview of his background: he was a star player for a youth team from Ghana who impressed FCD at the 2019 Dallas Cup, made some connections at the club, and stuck around training at FCD and NTSC for much of 2019. Those media members who could observe him in training during that period seemed to think he fit in well even in first team training despite being shy of his 17th birthday for most of that time. All went quiet around the beginning of 2020, but now he’s back having signed with NTSC just a month after his 18th birthday, the youngest age at which a player can jump borders to join a new club.

In Hope (and we can only pray that NTSC just puts “Hope” on the back of his jersey), NTSC is getting a player with a lot of similarities to dribbly attackers like Arturo Rodriguez or Gibran Rayo (or at least he played this way in early 2019 – we have no public footage of him since). Right-foot-dominant to a fault, Hope’s ability to stop, start, and change direction is crazy. Another delightful trait is that, after he passes, he moves, exploding toward space. Like Rayo, Hope’s technical foundation allows him to play all over the attack for his team, featuring on both wings, in the midfield, and even at striker despite his size (he’s short, resembling LAFC’s Latif Blessing in both stature and gait). Mostly because he wasn’t really asked to with his club, I have no idea how he plays defense. It will surely be interesting to see how he does against higher level opponents and with more tactical responsibility.

Here are some highlights that his club in Ghana posted around the time of the 2019 Dallas Cup:

And here are his highlights from that Dallas Cup:

If you’ve got some time, you can also watch the full game that his team played in the Dallas Cup against the Cedar Stars, a low-level DA club from NY/NJ.

How does he fit into the roster?

In 2020, NTSC started David Rodriguez at the 10 for the beginning of the year before Thomas Roberts pretty much monopolized that spot after five games or so. On the wings, the top four start-getters were Beni Redzic, Collin Smith, Gibran Rayo, and Arturo Rodriguez. At striker, Bruce and Damus split starts apart from the one appearance for Ricardo Pepi.

While anything is possible, it seems like there is a decent chance that none of Roberts, A-Rod, Damus, or Bruce will be with for NTSC next season. Roberts is training in Scotland, possibly to create a loan. A-Rod has proven everything he can at this level. Damus and Bruce are both getting a little old to be struggling with the level of USL-1 and have not, at the time of this writing, had their options picked up for next year. That combination possibly throws three starting spots wide open going into 2021.

Hope fits squarely into the discussion at all three spots, though perhaps striker somewhat less so. On the wing, Smith, Rayo, and Redzic will all be back for at least the beginning of the season. At the 10, Rayo and D-Rod will both be in the final years of their contracts. Plus, as per usual with FC Dallas, there are a gaggle of new high potential Academy players who could earn those spots for themselves. Despite all of that competition, however, I expect Hope to feature heavily for NTSC in 2021.

Why is this significant?

There are two things that really stick out as noteworthy from this signing.

First, Hope’s deal could be for as long as five seasons. That’s, to my knowledge, two years longer than any other deal NTSC has given out so far, and potentially the longest player contract in USL1’s short history. As stated above, Hope has impressed when given the chance to play with the first team. The structure of his deal adds further credence to the idea that the club is very high on the prospect of Hope as an FC Dallas player at some point in the future.

Second, Hope represents the clearest example of international Academy scouting leading to a chance with the club. It’s very common for the top talent developers in Europe to recruit kids from all over the world to join at the age of 18. USMNT winger Ulysses Llanez, for example, had to go through a similar scenario as Hope before he could join Wolfsburg from the LA Galaxy academy – sitting and waiting for most of a year before he could officially sign. While NTSC has signed players from youth setups outside the US (eg: Alisson), they have not gotten in this early on a prospect before. It’s a good first step and hopefully not the last.