When Phillip Gyau was inducted into the Maryland Soccer Hall of Fame in 2008, his 15-year-old son had to take the day off. As Joseph Gyau came to know, the national team's residency program isn't for the faint of heart.
“A profession like this starts early,” said Amina Gyau, Joseph's mother.
Now 21, Joseph continues to climb the ladder: He signed in June with the Under-23 team of Borussia Dortmund, a Champions League staple and one of the two most prominent clubs in Germany's Bundesliga.
UMBC coach Pete Caringi Jr., a longtime family friend, calls the Silver Spring winger “the future of U.S. soccer.” If that proves to be the case, though, it will largely be a product of his father's past.
“On the field,” Joseph said, “my dad has taught me pretty much everything I know.”
Himself the son of a Ghanaian professional player, Phillip knew that Joseph's training had to start early — so even during his playing days, the next generation was never far from his mind. One moment in particular stands out.
Phillip had befriended a number of soccer legends after transitioning to beach soccer, and at a picnic with them in the late 1990s, he remembers watching a soccer-volleyball game and being struck by a 9-year-old Brazilian's precocious technical ability.
“It was incredible, man,” Gyau said. “I'd never seen a kid play like that ever in my life. At that time, Joseph was 4 or 5 years old. So I said to myself, when Joseph gets to be 9 years old, I want him to play like that.”
Gyau approached the boy's parents. How did you train your son? he asked.
“The rest,” as Phillip puts it, “is history.”
Like father ...
A member of Ghana's “Golden Generation,” Phillip “Nana” Gyau moved to the United States in the late 1960s, and his family eventually came with him. He grew up in Wheaton, and his soccer upbringing was typically American: high school at Gwynn Park, college at Howard, and a start with local Washington teams.
He moved to the Maryland Bays, where he played for two seasons, ahead of their playoff-less 1989 season, and the club underwent a series of changes for 1990 — hiring Caringi, a former assistant, as its new head coach and moving from UMBC to Cedar Lane Park in Columbia.
“That's where we got the most support,” Gyau said. “We never lost there.”
And as the Bays raised their profile, so, too, did Gyau, who played in several friendlies leading up to the 1990 World Cup, the United States' first appearance at the tournament in 40 years.
In the end, he became one of the final players left off the U.S. roster.
“Phillip was extremely fast, probably one of the fastest players who played in his time,” Caringi said. “I'm pretty sure [getting cut] took a lot out of [Gyau], because there weren't many players that were better than him.”
But the striker and his team nonetheless finished the season strong: With Gyau compiling 11 goals and six assists to claim the American Professional Soccer League's Most Valuable Player award, the Bays went on to beat national team star Eric Wynalda and San Francisco for the short-lived franchise's only championship.
But as Caringi left to take the top job at UMBC after that 1990 season, Gyau spent the league's offseason in Europe — becoming the first American to play first-division Belgian soccer.
He came back to Columbia in June 1991, and Maryland, which at one point had run an 18-game winning streak, was upset in the first round of the playoffs. The cash-strapped Bays sank shortly thereafter, and Gyau moved on.
In June 1994, he returned, signing with the Baltimore Spirit (now the Blast) of the indoor National Professional Soccer League. But for a player known for his pace, Gyau “was slow in making the transition to indoor soccer,” The Baltimore Sun wrote. He played just one game before being released Nov. 9.
Major League Soccer's inaugural season was set for 1996, but an aging Gyau took a different path, serving as a player, captain and coach for the U.S. beach soccer national team from Brazil to Monaco for nearly a decade. In 2005, he represented the United States in the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup.
Still, through all his years of globe-trotting, he always had a special place in his heart for the Bays.
“It was a great experience. To this day, we still keep in touch,” Gyau said. “When I went into the Maryland Soccer Hall of Fame, they all came.”
... like son
Taking a short break from residency training, Joseph came, too.
“Everyone knows my dad in Maryland,” he said with a laugh. “When we would go to soccer tournaments when I was younger, we couldn't walk 30 yards without him being like, ‘Oh, hey! What's up? Oh, hey!' He knew everybody.”
But Joseph's only memories of his father's Bays days come from an old highlight video. He knows Phillip's coaching much better.
Early on, just as the parents of that Brazilian boy had suggested, the two began working intently on the technical side of the game. For special training, Joseph made annual trips to Brazil from the age of 7.
Phillip — at the same time juggling beach soccer — later became an assistant coach with Joseph's Bethesda Roadrunners club. And from a technical standpoint, Joseph and recent Loyola grad Sam Bradley stood out.
“I think when they were 10 years old, they could juggle more than 1,000,” head coach Ole Sand said. “They could juggle, take off their shorts and put back on their shorts.”
By 15, Joseph and three of his teammates had been invited to the U.S. residency program in Florida. European offers followed, and Joseph left at 18 for another German side, Hoffenheim.
Then, in June, after a year and a half of courtship by U-23 coach David Wagner, the offer from Dortmund came in, and the Gyaus “couldn't be happier,” Phillip said.
The adjustment once Joseph arrived was minimal: After all, Dortmund's high-pressure system was the same style that Joseph had played all those years under his dad with the Roadrunners.
Joseph played in three matches during the preseason, scoring the game-winner in a match July 19. He later reported to the U-23 team when its season opened earlier this month — scoring twice in a 5-1 win Aug. 8 — and will not move up to the first team for Saturday's season opener. But Wagner told The Baltimore Sun he expects Joseph to have a “chance” with the top club soon enough.
“I'll be with [the U-23s] for the first bit of the season, but if I keep doing well, who knows what could happen?” Joseph said. “If I do the things they told me to do, if I do the things I'm supposed to do, then I don't think it would be something too far-fetched to see me playing soon.”
Count Caringi among those who wouldn't be surprised.
“As much as the father and the grandfather did, I think Joseph will surpass [them] — or maybe already has,” he said. “Joseph has a combination of both. I think Joseph is an extremely fast player, very technical.
“He's probably the total package, for me.”
And it's for that reason, even with Joseph's career just beginning to hit its stride, the Gyaus already have become somewhat of a model.
Five years ago, Phillip said, a father from Texas called him out of the blue. How did you train your son? he asked.
So Phillip told the man their story.
The lessons he'd picked up as a player. How the two started young. All those trips to Brazil.
Eleven-year-old Kevin is now at Barcelona.
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