But it was at Southern Poly where Danso fully emerged as a legitimate soccer prospect, helping establish the Marietta-based university’s fledgling men’s soccer program in its first two years.
Now, the 29-year-old Danso has made a successful climb over the last couple of years, and he stands on the next level as a starting defender for the Portland Timbers of Major League Soccer.
Danso, who goes by the nickname of “Futty,” is actually in his fourth season with the Timbers. He played with the team in two lower-tier leagues before the franchise moved up to the top-flight MLS in 2011.
“It’s like a dream come true for me,” Danso said Thursday from Portland. “It’s been my dream to be a professional soccer player. MLS is the top professional league in the United States and it’s very exciting to be a part of it.”
Local soccer fans will get a chance to see Danso in action tonight as the Timbers host the David Beckham-led Los Angeles Galaxy on the NBC Sports Channel at 11 p.m.
The 6-foot-3, 185-pound Danso has helped anchor the Timbers’ defense, though he did contribute a little bit on the offensive side with three goals last year.
The 2012 season has been somewhat challenging for Danso, who has played in only six of Portland’s 17 games after missing the early part of the season with a fracture in his left foot.
“It was hard missing so many games early in the season after I broke my foot,” Danso said. “It took me a little while to get back into it, but I’m getting there, and my teammates have been very helpful.”
Now playing among some of the world’s best soccer players, it’s evident that Danso has come a long way from Southern Poly.
Danso came to the United States to play soccer at Southern Poly in 2007, when the program launched under coach Kom Momeni.
In his two seasons with the Hornets, Danso scored 35 goals and split time as a forward and defender. He was a two-time All-Southern States Athletic Conference selection, and he was the SSAC player of the year in 2008.
For Danso, it was his two years at Southern Poly that convinced him that he could play soccer on the professional level.
“Playing at Southern Poly gave me a chance to see what I could do,” Danso said. “It showed me that I could play on the next level. I enjoyed playing at Southern Poly.”
Danso turned pro after his sophomore year in 2008 and played with the Cary (N.C.) Clarets of the Premier Development League before joining the Timbers in ’09.
Danso made an immediate impact in the Portland backfield for the Timbers’ MLS debut season of 2011, putting together a league-best streak of 604 minutes without committing a foul and scoring the game-winning goal in a 1-0 win over the Philadelphia Union.
Playing pro soccer has been a positive experience so far for Danso, who has also enjoyed playing and living in Portland.
“Everything has been great,” Danso said. “I love playing pro soccer and I love Portland. The fans are so passionate about soccer and they are so supportive. Portland is a very nice city and I’ve enjoyed living here.”
Danso’s long tenure in Portland has established him as a team leader, though the Timbers have struggled to a 5-8-4 record and sit eighth in MLS’ nine-team Western Conference.
“I’ve been here for four years, so I’ve taken more of a leadership role,” Danso said. “I try to help the newcomers get adjusted and tell then how Portland is. I’m definitely more of a leader on this team, now.”
Danso has also been a member of Gambia’s national team for the last three years, playing for his native country in international competition.
“It’s a big experience for me to play for Gambia,” he said. “It’s very exciting for me to play against some of the best players from all over the world. It’s been a good experience for me.”
Danso is the first Southern Poly men’s soccer product to establish himself on the professional level, and Momeni has been following the progress of his former standout’s pro career with great interest.
“When he first got on campus, we knew we had something special — though we didn’t know that he would make it to the MLS level,” Momeni said. “I’ve spoke to him a couple of times and he said he’s put a lot of time and effort in the weight room, and I guess he’s earning the fruit of his labor with all of his extra work. I follow Futty’s career very closely and I’m proud of what he has accomplished on the professional level.”