Why not Kofi? Houston Dynamo make case for right back Kofi Sarkodie to earn a shot with USMNT

Giles Barnes: "In this league, I've not played against a better right back."

As the US national team tries out new options at right back, the next player to get a look could be manning the same position for the Houston Dynamo.

Kofi Sarkodie’s career has taken off in the past nine months. In a blink of an eye, the young defender went from languishing on the Dynamo bench behind a stacked lineup to playing an integral role on a run that fell just 30 minutes short of an MLS Cup championship.

In that time, Sarkodie has gone from a player with ample potential to a player many have pegged as a potential national team call-up in the near future.

“I don’t see how he can’t be involved,” said Dynamo striker Giles Barnes of Sarkodie’s USMNT prospects. “For me, in this league, I’ve not played against a better right back. I see him day in, day out and his mentality and focus doesn’t change. It would be the ultimate reward for him and it wouldn’t be undeserved for him at all.”

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Sarkodie entered the league with all the hype and fanfare of a Top-10 pick from the nation’s top collegiate program.

What he found was a learning curve that was as much about what was happening on the field as off it. His marauding runs in an Akron Zips uniform gave way to a game of patience and a series of professional challlenges that had him struggling to gain traction, with playing time hard to come by.

Whereas in college the Ohio native was pushing the envelope and punishing defenses on a dominant Akron team, his time with the Dynamo was spent learning the whole of the game at the MLS level and trying to adapt.

“I see a lot in Kofi. Kofi and I got here at the same time and Kofi wasn’t the same as he is now,” backline mate Jermaine Taylor said. “He was a guy coming out of college mingling amongst the guys he’d watched on TV and he was shying away. Where he’s at now, he’s come a long way by putting a lot of dedication in his career on and off the pitch.”

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That change started late last season.

With Andre Hainault away with the Canadian national team and out of form, Sarkodie seized his chance with just seven games to go in the regular season. The speedy right back was no longer timid. He was pushing forward while still staying true to his defensive duties to become a bright spot in the playoffs.

“When you first come in you’re not used to the overall taxation of the workload of matches and practices,” Sarkodie said. “When you’re worrying so much about your fitness or trying to stay up or always feeling tired under pressure, it can take away from your game.

“Over the past two years I’ve come to understand – through working with a lot of guys here and watching film and putting in extra work off the pitch – I’ve come to understand what’s required to have success in this league.”

Now Sarkodie is seen as one of the top young right backs in the US player pool. But like he has with his work on the field, Sarkodie is keeping his head down and has plans to continue working on his game. Next up: refining his service from the right flank.

WATCH: Karkodie sets up Creavalle

He showed progress in that department against Columbus on June 1 when Sarkodie set up Warren Creavalle for Houston's only goal in a 1-1 draw with the Crew.

“That goal against Columbus a couple of Saturdays ago is what we want from him,” Dynamo head coach Dominic Kinnear said. “When you get playing time, you get better and get more confident. I think he’s worked hard to get that time and has held on to his position.”

Darrell Lovell covers the Houston Dynamo for MLSsoccer.com.