Whether it is his multi-lingual Swiss compatriots or just a group of Crimson Crazies, sophomore defender and part-time forward extraordinaire Kwaku Nyamekye is quickly becoming the newest fan favorite to grace the pitch at Ohiri.
“He’s just an amazing athlete,” said senior goalkeeper Adam Hahn. “His athleticism, his awareness and the way he can combine that athleticism with a nice touch on the ball. It’d be tough to find a better centerback in the country.”
Nyamekye, who entered college as a natural forward, has made a smooth transition to defense, serving as a valuable cog on a backline that is only allowing 1.18 goals against this season.
Weighing in at impressive 6’1, 190 pounds, the physically remarkable Swiss international dominates unsuspecting forwards with the ease of a seasoned defender. Transitioning from one position to another is normally a daunting task for any player, but Nyamekye has only needed a year and half to assert himself as one of the nation’s best centerbacks.
“It was a natural decision to move him to the back,” Hahn says. “Athletically, from day one he made an impact, and now through the year he’s stepped up as one of the team’s leaders.”
Nyamekye has been able to utilize his physicality to contribute offensively, already equaling his freshman tally of three goals with a quarter of the season still remaining.
The forward-turned-defender has recently been counted upon to spark Harvard’s attack in the dying minutes of the last two Ivy League matches. Against Brown and Princeton, Nyamekye moved up to the front line, shifting the Crimson’s traditional 4-4-2 formation to a 3-4-3, and answered the call each time with a vital goal.
Against Brown with the visiting Bears frantically holding on to a 2-1 lead, Nyamekye crept into the box and redirected a Matt Hoff flick past the Bear’s keeper for the equalizer in the 83rd minute. Although Harvard ultimately lost in overtime, Nyamekye’s efforts impressed head coach John Kerr enough to prompt the coach to utilize him again as a forward late in the second half against Princeton.
Finding itself in a similarly precarious situation, Nyamekye quickly turned a 2-1 Tiger advantage into a 3-2 Crimson win.
Coolly collecting the ball on the wing, Nyamekye sent in a stellar cross to sophomore Andre’ Akpan to provide the Crimson with the equalizer in the 74th minute. Not satisfied with a tie, Nyamekye tore down the pitch and effortlessly pulled in a John Stamatis pass, dummied the keeper, and buried the ball in the back of the net to drive the Ohiri faithful into frenzy.
But the question remains whether his success as a forward has convinced the team to move Kwaku up on a permanent basis.
“I’d like to see him stay in the back,” Hahn says. “He’s stepping up as a leader in the back and we need someone with his athleticism controlling the line. He and [junior Michael] Giammanco have been critical back there for the team.”
Considering the depth of the Crimson attack, which features Akpan (11 goals, seven assists) and junior Mike Fucito (Eight goals, five assists), Nyamekye’s attributes are maximized best at the backline. Even so, Kwaku’s contributions at forward have been tantamount to the production of the team’s other strikers, making him an integral part of the Crimson offense. He will likely be called on more and more as the season progresses.
Boasting a shooting percentage of .250—tied for second on the team with freshman Alex Chi—and having already scored one game-winning goal, Nyamekye also provides a strategic wrinkle that future Harvard opponents will have a tough time ironing out.
“The mere changing from two forwards to three is pretty big,” Hahn states. “It’s tough for any team to defend against those three.”
--Staff writer Mauricio A. Cruz can be reached at email@example.com.