- Thursday, 26 April 2012
- Written by Modou Lamin Beyai
The day that Mamadou Danso was born was filled with both joy and sorrow.On April 27, 1983, in Serekunda, Gambia – the largest city in the African country – the Dansos welcomed their son into the world and said goodbye to one of their dearest friends.
The man who died too early for Mamadou Danso to ever meet was known by everyone as “Futty”. It is a title of respect, Danso says, given to a man who has reached an immense understanding of the Koran.
“He was one of those guys who can recite the Koran off the top of his head,” Danso says. As homage to his friend, Danso’s father nicknamed his son “Futty”. The name stuck with Danso throughout his childhood and is now on the back of his Portland Timbers uniform.
Danso cannot recite the Koran as well as his namesake, but he makes a practice of reading the holy book as often as possible. “I’m not as good as the guy they named me after,” Danso says, laughing. “I know a little bit of it, though, and I can read it.”
Danso’s Islamic faith remains a critical part of his life. During a time like now, when the 6-3, 185-pound defender is trying to make his way back onto the pitch after suffering a broken bone in his left foot, it is comforting for him to have a rock to lean on.
Last season, Danso was a stalwart on the Timbers back line. Starting at center back in 23 of 24 matches, Danso provided the Timbers with tenacious defense. With his size, he was a threat for the Timbers on every dead ball, and finished the season with three goals.
Danso, who turns 29 on Friday, was determined to be even better when the 2012 season opened. “If you have a good year, coming into your second year you have a lot of expectations,” Danso says. “You expect a lot out of yourself.”
But in a possession drill during a preseason training session in March, Danso collided with Portland’s 6-1, 220-pound striker, Bright Dike. The collision tweaked something in Danso’s foot. He tried to play through the pain, which made things worse.
Two days later, he was diagnosed with a stress fracture. He had to undergo surgery that had a four- to six-week recovery period. With so many expectations, Danso was crushed. “I had a decent preseason, so coming into the last week before the season, getting injured wasn’t easy,” he says.
The Timbers (2-4-1 heading into Saturday’s road match against Sanna Nyassi’s Montreal Impact) have greatly missed Danso both in back and on set pieces this season. More than anything, though, Portland – which has had a penchant for conceding goals late in matches – has missed Danso’s ability to lead.
“You never really hear much from Futty,” Timbers coach John Spencer says. “He’s such a level-headed gentleman. But he’s a good leader. A quiet leader, but a very effective one.”
One thing that makes Danso such a good leader is that he does not stick to one clique inside the locker room. “I don't have any Gambians here to hang out with,” he says. “So I hang out with everybody.”
Danso, a mainstay on the Gambia national team, does Skype with his friends from Gambia who are playing in Europe, and he talks to Gambians on other MLS teams. But, living so far from his homeland, he understands how easy it would be to lose everything that made him the man he is today.
“Sometimes I remind myself that my culture is getting lost here,” he says. Where he grew up, soccer was a way of life. “Everybody plays soccer,” Danso says. “You’re either watching soccer, talking about soccer, or playing it.”
Soccer was never allowed to take precedence over religion in the Danso household, though. Throughout his childhood, each day after attending regular school, Danso would go to Islamic school in the afternoons. “That’s part of the culture in Gambia,” he says. “If you’re a Muslim, you have to go.”
The practices of Islam remained a part of Danso’s life when he came to America to attend Southern Polytechnic State University in Marietta, Ga., and it continued when he signed with the United Soccer Leagues’ Timbers in 2009.
In 2009, Danso was determined to follow his Muslim obligation of refraining from food or drink from sunrise to sunset during Ramadan. Danso was still observing Ramadan during a 3 p.m. Timbers match in Austin against the Aztex when the temperature climbed to 105 degrees.
“It took a lot out of me,” he says. Danso has continued his Ramadan fast during MLS matches, but when it is too hot, he abstains for a day. “You are allowed to fast if you're healthy, but not to put yourself in danger,” he says.
Weather permitting; Danso will fast during Timbers matches this year when Ramadan begins on July 21. He is getting closer to being able to play in first-team matches. Last Sunday, he played the first half of the Timbers Reserve League match against Vancouver Whitecaps FC and was able to train with Portland the next day.
“I feel pretty good,” Danso says. “A little soreness, but it’s something that I was expecting. When I get healthy, I can give a lot,” he says. “I just want to get healthy right now and do the same things I did last year.”