Latif Blessing calls his family back in Ghana before every game. They have just one request before he hangs up: Score. A minute into the second half LAFC’s preseason friendly against Vancouver on Sunday, Blessing rose to fulfill his family’s wishes.
With LAFC trailing 3-1, Diego Rossi raced onto a through ball to the left of the Whitecaps’ penalty area. Lifting a left-footed cross into the box, Rossi found his ball met with the head of an unlikely target.
Listed at generous 5 feet 7 inches tall on MLSsoccer.com, Blessing is known more for his speed and craft with the ball at his feet than his aerial prowess. This despite Blessing’s biggest MLS goal to date coming off via a header in the first half of Sporting KC’s 2-1 triumph over the NY Red Bulls in the 2017 Open Cup final.
Darting into the Whitecaps' penalty area, Blessing met Rossi's cross just shy of the near post. Rising uncontested, he nodded the ball just past goalkeeper Brian Rowe to make the score 3-2. The goal was Blessing’s first in Black & Gold, and LAFC would go on to draw the preseason match 4-4.
“When I am in a good position, I am going to score many goals,” Blessing said before training two days ahead of the Vancouver friendly. “When I played in Kansas City, I said ‘Hey, I’m going to score many goals.’ But in league matches, I scored only three goals. It’s a game. Anything can happen. Here, I can score many goals.”
Before coming to Sporting KC in 2017, Blessing scored 17 goals in 24 matches for the Liberty Professionals of the Ghana Premier League. He led the league in goals that season and was named MVP by the Ghana Football Association. But when he came to MLS he was asked to make the transition out wide as a winger.
“I had to come back and help my defenders,” Blessing said of his time in KC. “By the time the ball came to me, I was so tired that I couldn’t score many goals.”
That first season, Blessing ended the year with three goals and one assist in league play, while contributing another three goals in KC’s Open Cup run. LAFC saw potential in the 21-year-old, making him the second selection of the 2017 MLS Expansion Draft. Now under the guidance of coach Bob Bradley, Blessing says he feels empowered on the pitch.
“I like Bob Bradley because when I get a ball, he tells me: ‘You need to go. If you want to pass, then pass. But if you need to go, then go.’ When I was with Kansas City, when I got the ball, I wanted to do what I wanted to do, but the coach told me don’t do that,” Blessing said. “I’m so happy to work with Bob Bradley.”
With LAFC’s inaugural season a little over a week away, Blessing is hoping that freedom means more goals.
“When I score goals, all of Ghana are happy for me. When I scored the goal in the final I was so happy. I couldn’t sleep. I called my mom and said, ‘I did it.’ And she said she was so happy for me,” Blessing said. “Everybody was happy for me in my family and friends. All of them were happy for me. After the season, I went back to Ghana and hung out with my friends. They were so happy. I showed my medal to everybody. And they were very, very happy.
“After the season, I brought 20 sets of my jerseys and I go to Ghana and give it out. Everyone is wearing my jersey. But some people didn’t get them. So this year, new Club, big city, I said I would bring even more jerseys.”
If all goes to plan, Blessing's family will be getting many more happy phone calls in 2018.