DAYTON – Former University of Dayton men’s soccer player Lalas Abubakar ’17 is coming off the best season of his professional career, earning Defensive Player of the Year honors for the Colorado Rapids of Major League Soccer.
The 6-foot-0 center back has started all 17 games he has appeared in this season, scoring one goal and playing 1,515 minutes of action. He ranks second on the team in starts and minutes played and has developed into a crucial part of the Rapids’ run to the MLS playoffs. Colorado finished fifth in the Western Conference during the regular season and begins its playoffs Sunday against Minnesota in the opening round.
Abubakar is in his second season with the Rapids after joining from the Columbus Crew in November of 2019, spending time on loan before being traded permanently. He played 31 career games over three seasons for the Crew, who drafted him fifth overall in the 2017 MLS Superdraft. While Columbus had a plethora of center backs, including some fellow Ghanaians, Colorado was in desperate need of defensive reinforcements. They made a move for Abubakar, who had a reputation for speed and physicality that would fit in well with the Rapids.
Not only did he turn heads in Denver, but he’s been doing that since he first arrived in Ohio.
Playing at UD from 2014-17, Abubakar earned Atlantic 10 Defender of the Year honors while leading Dayton to the 2015 Atlantic 10 Championship and NCAA tournament appearance. He was First Team All-Conference twice, as well as Scholar All-America, Senior CLASS Award finalist, and numerous other accolades. He earned team MVP honors in his senior season.
“Lalas is a true inspiration and he continues to carry the torch for our Dayton Flyer program,” said Currier. “I am extremely proud of his accomplishments as a professional player. Since he was drafted, my family and I have not missed any of his games. It has been great to stay in touch with him as he continues his amazing journey. Time flies by and it seems like yesterday when he arrived on our campus all the way from Kumasi, Ghana. It was evident from day one that Lalas was a WINNER. He informed me that he would bring the A-10 Championship to Dayton, and that he did There was no doubt in my mind that he would become one of the best defenders in the MLS league. However, there is a lot more to Lalas than just soccer. He was a tremendous student and leader of our program. He left behind a legacy that will always be remembered and set a path for others to follow. Lalas brought a personality to our University that related so well to his teammates, coaches, instructors and our athletics staff. Still to this day, I feel his pain when his team loses a game and his excitement when they win because I know how much Lalas cares about doing well for his TEAM.”
Abubakar took the time during the season to speak with us about his time at UD, his transition to the pros, and what made his time at Dayton so special.
Abubakar on staying connected to Dayton
“I stay in touch with (Coach) Currier. He always watches every game. You don’t get a lot of coaches like that. We have a very good relationship, a very special relationship.”
Abubakar on this season with the Colorado Rapids
“It’s been a crazy year. We started off bad with everything going on, but we are doing well. We are in a really good position right now. We finished off the season, made a push and made the playoffs. It’s been awhile since the Rapids have made the playoffs. It’s been one of my goals since I’ve been here. We won a couple games and got momentum. I think we are in a good position and need to focus.”
Abubakar on the COVID impact this year
“It’s been tough. We started the first two games of the season then COVID stopped everything for a couple of months. We were just training. Then we went to Orlando for the tournament and didn’t do as well as we wanted, but then came back and had two weeks to get better. We have been trying to get back together as a team.”
Abubakar on the differences between the MLS game and college game
“In the pro game, there is a big difference. I always say it is up to the individual. You have to know the demands and what it takes to be a pro. It’s all the stuff you need to do to be successful at this level. We have a lot of guys that get to the pros, but they don’t really have what it takes or do the right stuff to sustain it. Once you get to this level, your training, your mentality, your perseverance – it’s not easy. You keep pushing every day. You take advantage of every opportunity that comes your way.”
The biggest thing is being consistent, being disciplined. A lot of pros will tell you that is the biggest difference. Just to watch when you get those opportunities and be disciplined and consistent. It is really important. For me, as you can see throughout my four year career there has been a lot of inconsistencies, especially my rookie year. But now that I know what it takes to be consistent. I can be the same guy and come out every weekend and play my game. I’m happy with the situation I’m at right now. Once you figure it you, you know how to control your body, the things you need to do, and take the information from the coaches. You just work hard and everything will work out.”
Abubakar on his personal growth playing professionally
“I would say my biggest growth has been leadership. When I was at Dayton, I learned a lot about leadership. Then coming to the pros, you have guys older than you. But you still have to be a leader on the field, especially when you look at the position I’ve been playing. You have to be a leader as a center back and control the team. It something that I’ve grown at more, starting at Dayton and into the pro level. With the level of play and the tension of the game, obviously college is different. You have to be thinking ahead, quicker, faster. Everything is quicker and you have to process.Before the ball comes to you, have to know where the ball is going. If you take focus off for a second, it could cost your team. I’ve learned a lot. I’m not done yet. I keep growing.”
Abubakar on missing his time at UD
“I miss UD a lot. It’s everything. The community. It’s something that I miss. I loved going to school, going to classes, learning and studying. I miss hanging out with the coaches, Currier will tell you. I do miss UD. Sometimes when you are there, you don’t realize, but when you leave, you realize there is a lot of stuff you miss, like my teammates. Some of them I stay in touch with, but it’s just the community. When I look at UD, I look at how together we played, it was beautiful. Our team in 2015, you couldn’t beat us. How together we were – we cared for each other, we played for each other, we fought for each other. When I look at the team, I’m not surprised we went all the way and won the championship. After graduation, we still talk and were on a group chat. It was beautiful. I miss the community, the team bonding, the team chemistry. Sometimes when I sit down and think about it, I’m grateful for what UD has given me.”
Abubakar’s message to current Flyers with professional aspirations
“If you know what you want, you don’t sit down and wait for it. You go out there and go get it. You have to work to it. You have to earn it. At my time at UD, my main goal was to focus and make it to the MLS. Ever since my first day at UD, my focus was that. Just work hard. That’s never changed. You have to decide who you want to be and work hard for it. You have to have determination. For me, that is what has helped me to get to where I want to be.
“Before UD, I wanted to go to Europe and it didn’t work out. I came to the US and I’ve worked so hard and pushed myself every day. Today when I look back on myself, I’m proud of who I am and living the pro life. You have to work hard and do the extra work. You have to improve as a player. You listen to the coaches. At the end of the day, they want the best for you. You listen to Coach Currier. He still gives me suggestions. Working out with Thobe, he pushed me a lot. Before the draft, I went to him and said I have a chance at the combine and I want you to train me. Every day, he never stopped pushing me. He wanted me to be ready for the combine, and you know what, I went out and was one of the best at the combine. It’s part of the mission. It’s what you want and you go out and get it. But you have to work hard to get where you want to be. All the people at UD that helped me, I’m so grateful for them. It’s not impossible, but it’s not easy. When I went to the combine, none of the coaches had heard of me. But I was prepared to go down there and show them where I’m from, what school I’m coming from. And I made them realize. I will never forget what UD gave me as a player and as a person.”
Abubakar on choosing Dayton over Europe
“I’m just grateful that I came to UD. Now I have an education, I’m more mature, I know what I’m doing. It is better for me now than if I had went to Europe and played soccer. I know what I’m doing financially with my money. It worked out perfectly. I have my degree, I’ve started my masters. I’m just happy that I went to UD and went to school there.”
Credit – daytonflyers.com