- Monday, 18 June 2012
- Written by Modou Lamin Beyai
Sometimes, you can’t wait for an opportunity to present itself. Instead, you have to go out and create it for yourself. Creating his own opportunity was what brought Gambian defender Ebrima “EJ” Jatta to the Los Angeles Blues tryouts last December, and now the 6-foot-3 center back has found a home at the heart of Charlie Naimo’s defense.
“When the chance came to try the U.S., I said, ‘I’m going to go for it’,” Jatta said recently. “It’s been amazing.” Having grown up in a small village in his home country, Jatta was spotted by a scout at a young age and brought to the nation’s capital, Banjul. From there, he made his way into the U17 National Team at the age of 16, and then progressed on to the U20 National Team that reached the 2007 FIFA U20 World Cup knockout stages in Canada.
That experience caught the eye of a pair of clubs in England, but trials with Reading and Norwich City didn’t work out. After returning to The Gambia and continuing to play, Jatta followed in the footsteps of fellow countrymen Abdoulie Kenny Mansally, Sainey Nyassi, Sanna Nyassi and Mamadou “Futty” Danso in making the trip across the pond.
Having been called up for the junior teams in the past, Jatta is hoping that the experience he is gaining with the Blues will give him the chance to earn a place in the national team
“It’s amazing,” Jatta said of representing his country. “I’m from a small country, so if you happen to play for the national team, you are known by the whole country. Anywhere you go, you’re recognized, and it is the best thing that can happen to a soccer player from The Gambia.”
For now, though, he’s aiming to hone his skills playing for the Blues. With Naimo wanting to add size and strength to his backline this offseason, the addition of Jatta was a simple decision, and Naimo has been as impressed with his center back off the field as he has on.
“He’s a gentle giant,” Naimo said. “He’s just a very respectful human, will do anything for his teammate, will do anything for his team, and he’s just a great all-around guy to have.” Having played in all eight of the Blues’ games this season, he’s also become an integral part of the side alongside Erlys Garcia. Bringing a positive attitude to practice every day, where Naimo says he plays as hard against his teammates as he does their USL PRO opponents, Jatta is trying to learn as much as he can as quickly as he can to help the Blues reach the playoffs in their second season.
“He always wants to get better every day, and he’s a strong ‘fella’, hard, technically he’s getting better every day,” Naimo said. “He’s learning, he’s getting more technical, he’s smarter, and he’s got the athleticism, so the more games he gets at a high-paced level, the better chance he’ll [have] to join his home team, and the more he’ll improve as a player.”
“I’ve never seen the Gambian full team, but what I do know is he’s got a lot of the tools to play at a high level, and he’s still a young guy, so I think he’s got a great chance to get back to a full team, and now he’s got his green card, who knows, maybe there’s a higher level here in America for him as well.”
Jatta, too, is hoping that at some point he will be able to move into the MLS ranks, joining Futty, Sanna and Sainey, which would also give a boost to his national team hopes. For now, though, he remains focused on helping the Blues find success this summer.
“I would like to play in MLS, of course,” Jatta said, “but right now I’m with the L.A. Blues, so I’m focused on helping the side win the championship, and then we’ll see what happens.”