Griffins striker Yassin pushes for even greater heights after major award win and pro trial

Ricky Yassin looks for an opening against Mount Royal in a game earlier this season (Rebecca Chelmick photo).
Ricky Yassin looks for an opening against Mount Royal in a game earlier this season (Rebecca Chelmick photo).

Jefferson Hagen
MacEwan Athletics

EDMONTON – Rakan Yassin sashayed around a defender and sent a left-footed dagger far side past Saskatchewan goalkeeper Jaron Slopinski to salt away the MacEwan Griffins' 2-0 win over the Huskies last Sunday.

Then he made a phone call.

Well, a fake one.

As part of a celebration similar to the signature move of Arsenal striker Gabriel Fernando de Jesus, he mimed making a call, which, as it turns out, was done especially for teammate Joseph Abrahart – a huge Gunners fan.

"We were on the way to Lethbridge," recounted Yassin, "and he said 'if you score on the weekend, can you do that?' So, I just gave him a little point and did the phone call celebration."

Yassin's second goal in as many games helped give the Griffins men's soccer team complete a six-point weekend after he also tallied in Lethbridge last Friday.

"He's a willing shooter, that shoot-first player that teams want and need," said head coach Adam Loga of his leading scorer ahead of the Griffins' upcoming home match vs. cross-town rival Alberta on Saturday (12 p.m., Clarke Stadium, Canada West TV).

"When he buries them as frequently as he does, it definitely helps our cause. Just having that hunger and confidence around goal to take somebody on rather than pass it off is something that every coach wants to see."

Both coach and player recall a key turning point in Yassin's university career last season at a Calgary hotel with the Griffins in town to face Mount Royal University.  

"Before that Sunday match, we had a heart-to-heart chat and I don't know what I said," noted Loga. "We still talk about that chat. I don't know what made it click, but he came out and scored a few that game and never looked back. It was absolutely crazy. 

"I know I called him in because I don't think he had a goal to that point. I was kind of like 'I keep putting your name on the team sheet. Help me out. I'm your biggest fan. I don't want to take your name off, but you need to give me something, so there's rationale behind (starting you).' I don't know what connection or brotherhood we had, it clicked. He was just phenomenal the second half of the year."

Yassin went on a tear, scoring four times and adding two assists in the Griffins' final five games of the season, ultimately leading them to the playoffs. A few months later, he became just the fifth player in MacEwan's 40-year men's soccer program history to win the Athletics department's prestigious Male Athlete of the Year honour.

Rakan Yassin, left, poses with MacEwan University Provost and Vice-President Academic Craig Monk and fellow award winner Samantha Gouveia after winning the Griffins' Male Athlete of the Year honour last season (Joel Kingston photo).

As a result of his strong finish to the season, which also included scoring twice in MacEwan's first round playoff loss to Victoria, he earned a pro trial with Amman, Jordan-based Al-Jazeera SC. 

"It was fun," said Yassin of the August trip to Jordan. "It was very different for me. It was the first time I've ever went on a serious trial for a club. It was something I had to adapt to. It's a different playing style and even the weather and playing conditions. That's something that was big for me. It helped me bring my game to the next level, for sure."

He almost signed with the club, but a paperwork issue forced a missed deadline and his return to MacEwan instead. However, Yassin noted the coach left the door open for him to join Al-Jazeera SC in the winter following the Canada West campaign.

In the meantime, he is the leader of perhaps the deepest group of attackers the Griffins have ever had. It forces everyone to be their sharpest in all moments.

Rakan Yassin leads the Griffins with two goals in the team's first four games (Rebecca Chelmick photo).

"As a staff and leadership group, we have to keep that balance where there's competition, but it's healthy competition and it's constructive," said Loga. "We push to do that. Just as much as when there's a tired player out there, we can put someone out there who can do a job if a player's not performing where he should be. It keeps lads on their toes. They can't take portions of a game off or even parts of practice off without being found out. 

"For the lads that want to go to the next level, that is the next level – doing what you do best, even though you don't feel like doing it. It's that consistency piece day-in, day-out, whether it's a reserve match or a first team game."

That only drives the whole team to be better and is a big reason why the Griffins currently occupy second place in the Prairie Division at 2-1-1.

"I think Adam has a tough job this year picking guys," said Yassin. "Even in the front three, we have so many depth pieces and options, he can roll with a lot of guys. 

"I think we have a really good squad. It's very competitive and that pushes everyone to up their game. Even though we're playing as a team, there's always someone who is trying to compete for your spot. It helps everyone grow individually, too."