HARVEY | Thornton Township's Emmanuel Barjebo is as selfless as soccer players come, and perhaps this admirable trait is the result of a tough road taken to the soccer fields of South Chicago.
Thornton Township finished the 2013 regular season with a 16-2 record and a perfect 6-0 record in the Southwest Suburban Red to capture the conference title.
Barjebo had 20 goals and 18 assists, but the fact he is the team's leading scoring is an afterthought, because with Barjebo, it's about the team and anything he can do to help.
"It's all about hard work," Barjebo said. "We've been working since the very beginning of the season and all the summer camps. We always go out hard and play hard. We play as team. I'm just out here to help my teammates out."
Thornton Township will meet Romeoville today at 5 p.m. in the 3A Stagg Regional.
Thornton will look to avenge a season-opening 3-2 overtime loss to Romeoville August 27th, a game in which Thornton was leading 2-0 for most of the match.
"I think a big reason we lost is that we weren't that used to each other and there wasn't that chemistry," Barjebo said. "Everybody communicates with each other now. I think we're ready this time. They're a good team, and they'll be ready too."
Barjebo's journey has been a long and sometimes painful. He immigrated to the U.S. from the West-African nation of Liberia, but for seven years, Emmanuel and his family were in a refugee camp in Ivory Coast, where Barjebo said soccer was not at the forefront of his life.
Barjebo and his parents were finally re-patriated to the U.S. through a United Nations program.
"When we migrated there it was kind of difficult," Barjebo said. "Life was hard for us. Finally, we were nominated to come here and we were on the program for a year and a half, and then we came here.
"The system of soccer is not close to what it is over here. We did not have people to train with."
Barjebo credits Thornton Township coach David Gonzalez and assistant Tony Gonzalez as being positive influences on his life.
"They are always telling me the right path to take, and I always listen to them," Barjebo said. "They assist me with anything. They always tell me if I need anything, just ask them."
David Gonzalez feels Barjebo's background has helped mold him into the player and person he has become.
"First of all, he's a very good kid," Gonzalez said. "He's coachable, and he loves to work. He's seen it all. Coming from Liberia, he traveled far to get here. I'm just blessed to be able to coach the kid and have him around.
"The guys absolutely love him."