MASL rules require all players to be equipped with proper footwear to be eligible to play. For new UCFC defender James Togbah, that wasn't always a guarantee.

Growing up in war-ravaged Liberia, Togbah’s life was more nomadic than anything. The country was engulfed in two separate world wars from 1989-2003, resulting in the deaths of over 250,000 people. Along with his mother, who was working with the United Nations, Togbah bounced around to many villages before his 13th birthday as they looked for areas of stability. The small villages weren’t made up of many people, and it didn’t take long for Togbah to be familiar with all of its members.

“My whole life I have been on the move,” he said. “When I moved within Liberia, it took me like two or three weeks to get to know everybody. It’s a big change in the U.S.A.”

Many kids in the United States are lucky enough to learn the game of soccer in sprawling parks and on finely-manicured fields. Togbah’s experience didn’t even come close to fitting that mold. He learned the game wherever and whenever he could, and usually without the proper footwear. Or any at all.

“Most of my games were played on the concrete, or on the beach” The new UCFC defender said. “The ball was old and we played in our bare feet. I miss those days because it got me to where I am now.” 

He was greeted with quite the culture shock when he and his mother came to the states in 2008. After kicking around villages of approximately 200-300 people, Togbah was transplanted to the densest city in the United States. They were New Yorkers.  

“It was a big change with the buildings and the people and how they interact,” he said. “In Liberia, it used to take me no time to make friends. In New York I was there for four months and didn’t know the people across my door.” 

After some time in NYC, the Togbahs were once again on the move, this time headed to Boston. Moving to their new hometown allowed James to participate in his first organized soccer experience. The youth programs in Liberia weren’t quite as rigid in their structure.

 “The organized soccer in Liberia was like “hey let’s go play another team a town over. No refs, no nothing,”” Togbah laughed. 

Upon embarking on the organized soccer experience for the first time, he was taken under the wing of an unforgettable coach who pushed him to be the best among his peers. Also, his first pair of cleats helped.

“He used to always pick me up because I didn’t have a ride,” Togbah mentioned. “He pushed me to play three ages up so that I could get better. I also got my first real cleats which was a great feeling.” 

Proper coaching, proper challenges, and proper footwear were all integral in helping Togbah climb the ladder of the soccer ranks through college and into the pros. His pedigree on the field even helped earn a tryout with LA Galaxy of MLS. A breakout season in Kansas City a year ago turned him into one of the most sought-after free agents in the MASL this summer. Not too bad for a kid who learned the game in the streets.

You can take James Togbah out of Liberia. You can move him around the United States… 16 different times to be exact. What you can’t take away is the fact that he is a proud Liberian who misses his home country each and every day. And one day, he wants to return and commit himself to humanitarian work and show the youth of the area that you can play the game as a pro. Shoes on your feet or not.