Ema Boateng finds extra motivation with return to his roots in Santa Barbara training camp

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – Emmanuel Boateng is heading into one of the most important seasons of his professional career, and before it truly kicks off, he’s serendipitously returning to his second home with the LA Galaxy.

Boateng and the Galaxy are presently training in Santa Barbara for three days ahead of the start of the MLS regular season which begins on March 6. The short training camp will culminate with a scrimmage against Armenian league champions Alashkert FC on Saturday.

The trip has special significance for Boateng, a UC Santa Barbara alum, who spent four years along the Central California coast after moving in 2009 from his native Ghana.

“[Santa Barbara] means a great lot to me. Coming from Ghana, I moved here when I was 15 and the support that I had from everyone in the community, and especially the Schwartzes my host family in high school and college, created a real bond,” Boateng told LA Galaxy Insider. “But it wasn’t just them, it was my high school and later UCSB as well supporting me. I really feel at home here. Kumasi, Ghana is my home, but I feel just as at home here in Santa Barbara. This place means a great deal to me.”

Boateng’s star truly began to rise in Santa Barbara with the CATE School in nearby Carpinteria where he received the 2012 Gatorade Player of the Year award which is given to the state’s top high school soccer player. The winger then flourished at UCSB where he played one season before becoming a professional.

Despite all the success, having moved from Ghana at the age of 15, the Galaxy’s pacey winger admits that the transition to an entirely new culture was not always a seamless one, but the community’s neighborly spirit and sense of unity provided the perfect outlet for his talent to grow.

“When you move to a whole new culture, you need people like that to be close to you and teach you a few things,” Boateng said. “The support system in Santa Barbara has really pushed me a lot as a person, soccer player, and academically as well.”

Boateng remains deeply connected to the community, visiting the area for a few days once a month during the season and keeping in close contact with his host family and friends. However, the trip this time around carries added significance with the winger looking to secure his place in the starting lineup under new Galaxy boss Curt Onalfo.

The 23-year-old made 34 appearances across all competitions last year with 27 starts, scoring four goals and adding six assists for Bruce Arena’s squad. During his time, he showed his potential with several remarkable goals including a world class finish that helped Los Angeles eliminate Real Salt Lake in the MLS Cup Knockout Round.

For all of his success in his first year with the team, however, Boateng is approaching this season with the understanding that he must earn his way into Onalfo’s starting lineup and prove to his teammates that they can trust him to change games.  And to do so, he’s looking to be even more aggressive toward the goal than he was a year ago.

“I need to make sure that I’m doing the same stuff every time I get on the field. I try to make sure that I’m giving my best and not trying to save something for the next game or the future,” he said. “It’s not the same team as last year, but I think we’re still pretty stacked and everyone believes that they can start for this team.

“The drive that I need to have is to keep proving to the coaches that I’m the guy.  If I see their heads turning toward someone else, I want to get their attention back to me and say, ‘hey look at me, I want to be the guy to change games for us, and you should think of me as someone who is going to produce.’

“It’s a whole new year, and it could go a different way, but I’m confident that I will be starting a lot more games this year, way more than last year but it’s just not the confidence itself, I have to prove myself to them every single day.”

As he enters into a pivotal year for his budding career, Boateng is pleased to have a brief opportunity to return to his roots and recharge ahead of the grind of the season.

It’s nice seeing everyone and catching up and puts me in the right mindset going into the season,” he said. “I’m really excited and glad that we’re here in Santa Barbara. It worked out perfectly that we’re training here, but I’m working as hard as I would anywhere else.”

Adam Serrano is the LA Galaxy Insider. Read his blog at LAGalaxy.com/Insider and contact him at LAGalaxyInsider@Gmail.com