Thu. Sep 21st, 2023

Abu Danladi (center) and Martin Garr (left) compete for the ball. All photos courtesy of Dominic Bisogno.

It’s 7 a.m. on a late-July Tuesday and Fernbrook Fields, the sports facility across the road from Maple Grove High School and feet away from Maple Grove’s Crimson Stadium, is hosting a unique gathering of athletes. Summer mornings don’t exactly seem like the usual time for a casual summer workout, but the Serious Ballers aren’t interested in casual.

Serious Ballers was founded in 2020 by Kwaku Amoah, a former college soccer player who has played for lower league clubs like the Minnesota TwinStars, Twin City, and FC Minneapolis. Amoah formed the group to provide local players with a place to have high intensity training sessions with fellow dedicated soccer players.

It’s a tool that can be exceptionally useful for players heading into college season, waiting between contracts, or looking to get back into the thick of it after an injury. Since its founding, the organization has grown and developed a more open social media presence as of 2023.

Sessions are held daily in the morning from Monday to Friday. Participation is not open to walk-ins, instead players must contact the group, usually digitally, and share their experience. The system means that when someone does take part in a Serious Ballers session, they are always bringing a strong resume to the table. That doesn’t mean young or local talent is excluded. Many players are from the metro area, but they have to be able to keep up.

The project has been well-received, taken up by local college players, as well as by current and past Minnesota United Academy members, experienced USL League Two/NPSL/UPSL players, and even professional footballers based in the area.

On the day of this photo shoot, the Serious Ballers session included the following players, alongside a very brief look at their playing resumes:

  • Kwaku Amoah (Indiana Wesleyan University, Minnesota TwinStars, FC Minneapolis)
  • Sidike Jabateh (Park Center HS, Minnesota TwinStars, University of Dayton)
  • Abu Danladi (Minnesota United, Nashville SC, FK Bylis)
  • Amara Kamara (Phil A. Nettleton Wesleyan High School, University of Dayton)
  • Romain Métanire (Minnesota United, Metz, Stade Reims, Madagascar National Team)
  • Manuel Molina (Dvo. Lara, Caracas FC, Kalamazoo FC)
  • Martin Browne (Osseo, Western Illinois, Minneapolis City, Joy Athletic)
  • Martin Garr (Anoka-Ramsey CC, FC Minneapolis)
  • Gabriel Nyenka Jr. (Park Center HS, Holy Cross College)
  • Augustus Dolo (Baraya, Anoka-Ramsey Community College)
  • Ousman Ceesay (Kennesaw State University, Minnesota TwinStars, Twin City FC)
  • Vincent Mbibi (Baraya, Robbinsdale Cooper HS, Dakota County Technical College)

Other attendees of note this year have included Molley Karpeh Jr., who has played pro with the Syracuse Pulse and Shabaab Al-Jabal along with a call up for Liberia, Cottage Grove-native Annie Williams of the Kalmar and Parma women’s teams in Sweden and Italy, MNUFC2 winger and Champlin Park alum Leo Conneh, and St. Olaf and Minneapolis City star forward Hakeem Morgan, who is also a Costa Rican U20 international.

Serious Ballers founder Kwaku Amoah explained that the organization’s roots lay in providing resources for athletes during and following the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Once the state declared that there can be outdoor activities with a mask and separating yourselves, I said, let me take advantage of this. I knew a lot of the kids in the soccer community already so I texted some guys, bought some small goals, and we started playing, just for fun and to stay in shape.”

Amoah added that the reception to his project has been encouraging, reflecting to him that players in the area want and need this outlet for training and growth.

“It’s awesome. For me, I’m not doing this for money. The joy I get out of it is to see young, talented players who are passionate about the game. Anytime they come out, it’s exciting. So, I’m glad there’s a positive turn out every time I hold these sessions.”

Amoah has hopes to expand his operation and continue his mission, but also has a clear focus on making the most of his current operation with Serious Ballers.

“Eventually I want to get some sort of warehouse, a Serious Ballers place, where, especially in Minnesota’s long winter, where guys can come and play 5v5 to stay in shape in winter-time and maybe hold some tournaments as well… The main thing is to keep growing it, keep marketing it, and you never know who’s going to come out here.”

Sidike Jabateh, a former Mr. Soccer Minnesota winner who attends the University of Dayton, told Sota Soccer he enjoys the way Serious Ballers brings together community.

“I have a lot of my brothers around me here that help me stay fit. As you can see, this six versus six is very intensive. That helps me a lot. Everyone here are good people.”

Jabateh also noted how helpful it is to share the pitch with players from different experiences, including at the professional level.

“It lets me get new experiences from people like (Danladi and Métanire) that played for Minnesota United, we’ve got Ohio State players. A lot of people from different backgrounds and levels of soccer, it’s good to compete against them.”

Former Minnesota United forward Abu Danladi told Sota Soccer he initially heard about Serious Ballers because of his seven year friendship with Kwaku Amoah. Danladi mentioned their shared nationality, both being Ghanaian, helped forge that bond.

“When I’m in town I hit him up just to see how things are. He’s helped me a lot… He told me he started this group, I was out of the country so when I came back I was looking for a place to train and said hey if you want to train, get some fitness and time on the ball, come down.”

Danladi, who most recently played for Albanian first division club FK Bylis in the second half of the 2022-23 season, added he was impressed by the level of the training, which has turned him into a regular participant.

“I’ve been back [for a bit of time] and I was just running by myself and working out at home, but as a soccer player you can’t do so much like that. Playing is what get’s you fit… The first day I came I wasn’t sure what it would be like, but it’s always been good intensity, good quality, it’s a good work and that’s why I’ve been coming every day.”

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