The sky was cloudy, and there was a chill in the air. But as soon as Latif Blessing sat down across from me alongside the LAFC training pitch, he brought the sunshine. If you’ve watched Latif play, you’ve seen his smile. He plays with youthful exuberance and joy that are impossible to ignore. His club and teammates describe him as the “heart and soul” of LAFC, and I was wondering if I’d see the same bliss during an interview right on the heels of an intense training session. After all, his teammates were heading off to shower, relax, and eat lunch together, and he had to sit down for a media interview. I didn’t have to wonder long. As soon as Latif sat down, he leaned forward and busted out an easy smile. He was ready, eager, and happy to talk to me. Lunch could wait.
Growing up in Ghana
I asked Latif about growing up in Ghaha. “How did you end up here? What was your childhood like?” Latif lit up as he told me about his childhood days. His mother showered him with love and support, but she wasn’t smothering. She saw his love for the game and let him pursue his dream of reaching the top levels of his sport. Latif played soccer with his friends every day on dirt fields, often barefoot. There was an emphasis on education, still. Mama Blessing made sure Latif and his twin sister, Latifa, attended school. Math was his favorite subject [fist bump], but Latif’s face lit up even more when he described the dominance his school’s soccer team achieved in Ghana.
Always looking to the positive
As Latif described his rise through the local soccer leagues, his smile never faded. There were slight hints at elements of local corruption. Instead of dwelling on the negative, though, Latif used that to point out the fact that he had wonderful friends and family who he knew were on his side. Sure, there was corruption, but that happens everywhere. He sees his friendships and his loving family as an even bigger blessing because of it.
Coming to America
Latif was originally brought to MLS in 2017 by Sporting Kansas City, whose coaches had identified him as a promising young talent in Ghana. Latif described the news, “My agent called me and said, ‘You’re going to America. Get ready to go to the airport.’ I was so excited. The paperwork at the embassy was hard, but my agent helped me. Everyone helped me. I got to the airport, and I sat there where I thought I was supposed to be for a very long time. I asked someone for help, and they said, ‘Oh your plane is gone. We’ll help you get on another plane.’ I made it to Kansas City, and I called my mom to tell her I was OK. And it was so cold! Kansas City is cold.” He went on to describe how new friends and Sporting KC staff helped him find appropriate clothes and made sure he felt at home.
A Star is Born in Los Angeles
After a year at Sporting Kansas City, he was traded to LAFC in 2018, where he has blossomed under Bob Bradley. During the 2018 LAFC inaugural season, he started 18 of 30 MLS regular season games, scoring five goals and adding six assists. His speed, ability to change the game, and his positive spirit quickly made him a favorite among his teammates and the LAFC fans.
Sharing the Blessing
While enjoying his success in MLS and Los Angeles, Latif remains committed to helping children in Nankese, his home village in Ghana. His dream is to build and equip a soccer field and school in his home town, so young children don’t have to play barefoot on the uneven dirt fields of his childhood. “I worked so hard back in Ghana. SO HARD. I played hard every day because people were telling me, ‘You can be great! You can be professional.’ So, every day I worked hard. Pushed harder. Ran faster. Dribbled through everyone. But the field was so bad. I want my village to have a nice field.” Looking at the field next to our table, awestruck, he said, “American kids have it so easy. These fields are so nice!”
SoccerLoco Shares the Blessing, will you?
During my research before this interview, I had gotten a little glimpse of Latif’s passion for helping his village. Before I drove up to LA, I went into my boss’s office, told him about Latif, and asked if there was anything he could donate to help. John Lococo, founder and owner of Soccerloco, who surely had important tasks on his to-do list for the day, jumped up from his desk and had me follow him back into the bowels of the SoccerLoco warehouse. He pulled down an enormous box of unsold youth cleats, and said, “Here. Take these to him. And tell him he’s doing a great job. We’re happy to help.” If you would like to help Latif’s village, you can donate to his GoFundMe HERE.
Everyone at SoccerNation and SoccerLoco wishes Latif Blessing and LAFC continued success through their 2019 season. If you haven’t yet gone to a game at Banc of California stadium, the season has just begun. You have plenty of time. Check out my story about the LAFC season opener. and get to a game! (And cheer a little extra for Latif Blessing.)