Siblings’ soccer talents sowed in Gambia

By Joseph Staszewski

Kwasi and Sylvia Ayisi learned how to play soccer where New York City kids pick up basketball – the streets. Except their streets were thousands of miles away in Gambia.

After school the two, who are brother and sister, would get together with friends and neighbors to play soccer, usually a full 11-on-11 match. The only thing that kept a game from happening was the availability of a ball.

The experience was different depending upon which one you ask. For Kwasi Ayisi, who played soccer in some form daily, the games were an expression of freedom and pure joy, with no pressure to perform attached. Sylvia Ayisi, who played in the games around three times a week, remembers them as being about individuals and not team.

“That used to be fun,” said Kwasi Ayisi, who starred at DeWitt Clinton and is currently on a soccer scholarship at Duke. “Now you have goals and you get frustrated. People are counting on you.”

He and his younger sister moved to the United State 2-1/2 years ago, meeting their mother, Elizabeth Owusu, here while leaving their younger brother, Kofi, and father, Samuel, in Gambia. The family reunited six months ago.

“It took time for us to know each other and the reality of what it would be like to live together as a family,” Kwasi Ayisi said.

There was also an adjustment from playing soccer in the streets of Africa to the organized version on the fields in the Bronx.

“There wasn’t a big difference, but there were a lot of things I learned in organized soccer that I didn’t learn playing soccer on the streets,” said Sylvia Ayisi, a senior midfielder at Clinton.

Kwasi Ayisi was kicked off the Clinton team as a senior, his only season, by coach Omar Osorio, for trying to do things by his own rules. The new structure wasn’t sitting well with him.

“The team decided to bring him back onto the team because I really didn’t want him to play for me, but once he learned the system and how disciplined we are here then he began to see the game more organized,” said Osorio, who also coaches the girls squad.

He went on to lead Clinton to an 11-1-1 record, its first division championship in 30 years and a trip to the PSAL Class A quarterfinals. He scored 14 goals as a senior. He is now a sophomore at Duke and injured his LCL in the team’s first practice. He is unsure if he will return this season to help the No. 11-ranked Blue Devils.

“It was all just fun for me,” Kwasi Ayisi said. “It was never something I had to work at.”

It was the opposite for his sister. There was an adjustment period for her also, but the structure, discipline and team camaraderie increased her love for the game and her willingness to work harder at it. What was recreation has become her passion.

“I started getting into it more when I joined the team, “she said.

Osorio said her skills were not great when she arrived, but that she is a hard worker, a good listener and that her prior knowledge of the sport gave her a foundation to build on.

Sylvia, one of the team’s captains, talked about learning ball control, improving her passing and the importance of switching the ball from one side of the field to the other. Every time you see her go after the ball you can see her thinking one play ahead. She has the Governors at 2-1-1 in Bronx A-I.

Her coach believes she has a chance to play at the Division II level and certainly at a Division III school. Osorio expects to be hearing from college coaches about her.

It has been a long journey for both her and her brother, but neither forgot where it all began – the streets of Gambia.

More from Around NYC