EVERETT — When the Cascade High School boys soccer team conducted tryouts for the 2014 season, Samuel Agyei was the big mystery.
But Bruins coach Sam Croft had an inkling of what was coming.
“My son knows Sam real well, they’re in they same class,” Croft, in his first year as Cascade’s coach, recalled. “When he came out, Chase kept telling me, ‘Hey dad, this guys is the real deal.’”
Agyei has been all that and more for the Bruins, and the sophomore striker has led Cascade back to boys soccer prominence.
Cascade travels to Spokane to face Ferris tonight in the first-round of the Class 4A state tournament. It’s the first state appearance for the Bruins since 2007, a long drought for a school that reached the state-championship game five straight years from 1987-91.
And Agyei has played a major role in that revitalization.
“It’s been a really good season,” said Agyei, who has 11 goals this season, including scoring twice in two different games during the District 1 tournament. “It’s not everything that I wanted, but it’s been really good so far.”
Agyei (pronounced uh-JAY) is the ideal fit for someone playing the lone-striker role in a 4-2-3-1 formation. He has the speed to blow past defenders and the height to head home crosses. He has an accurate shot that can pick out corners. But his best skill is his close ball control, which leads to eye-popping moments when he’s surrounded by opponents, only to somehow wriggle himself and the ball through all of them.
Croft, who came to Cascade this season after serving as an assistant coach at Archbishop Murphy, compares Agyei to former Wildcats star Josh Bartley, the Herald’s boys soccer Player of the Year last season.
“He reminds me so much of Josh,” Croft said. “Just look at his build: He’s tall, he’s thin. He’s great with the ball and willing to take on four guys — and he’s one of those guys who beats the fourth guy. He also plays like Josh because he has about five assists. He’s not just taking the ball himself, he’s looking for the smart goal.”
Agyei’s silky-smooth ball skills were first developed in his native Ghana, a country where soccer is as much a religion as a sport. Kids play pick-up games from the moment the school day ends until the sun goes down. His older brother, Eric, as much as forced Agyei to learn close control.
“Every single time I kicked the ball with my toe, he’d get so mad,” Agyei said with a grin. “I started learning how to pass with the side foot and he started letting me play with the older guys.”
Agyei’s father studied abroad in the United States, and when Agyei was 8 years old, his family moved from Ghana to Snohomish County so the children could get a better education.
After an adjustment period in the U.S., Agyei began flourishing in the local select system, playing for Tynecastle FC. However, his prep career was delayed as a hip avulsion fracture wiped out his freshman season, meaning he was sprung unannounced on both Cascade and the Wesco 4A South this spring.
“He’s very creative, yet he’s also a disciplined player, too,” Croft said. “At tryouts I wasn’t quite sure about his discipline, but two months down the road he’s definitely shown to me he’s the real deal.
“He’s a great kid,” Croft added. “When he’s out here, he’s out here to work. Everybody feeds off of him. Knowing he’s only a sophomore makes me really happy.”
Agyei and the Bruins didn’t look anything like a state-playoff team early on. Cascade began th.e season 1-5-1 and seemed set for yet another year as a Wesco also-ran. But the Bruins staged a remarkable turnaround, going 9-1-1 over their next 11 games to reach the district championship game, where they lost a 1-0 heartbreaker to Snohomish.
That momentum has the Bruins believing they can be a factor at state, despite a 10-7-2 record that’s modest compared to their opposition.
Said Agyei: “If we play like how we have been playing, I think we can go far.”
Regardless of how Cascade fares at state, it’s safe to say Agyei is a mystery no longer.
Nick Patterson can be reached at email@example.com.