His given name was Mamadou, but calling him such in Portland would be a tell. For Timbers fans who bridged the gap between the USL and MLS eras, “Futty” Danso became a litmus test. If you weren’t familiar with the Gambian defender’s history with the team – one that extended from 2009 through 2014 – you were probably new to the green and gold.
He was one of the few players that went with the Timbers from second division to first, playing a key role in 2011’s expansion season and, in 2013, forming half of one of the most cherished partnerships in team history. Along with countryman Pa-Modou Kah, Danso formed what fans came to know as the Great Wall of Gambia – a pairing that helped guide the team to the top of the Western Conference and the club’s first MLS postseason appearance.
We caught up with Danso, whose post-Portland career would take him to Montreal, North Carolina, Oklahoma City and, in 2017, Malaysia. Here’s what the long-time Timber is doing now:
Soccer has taken you around the globe. Where is home, for you, now and what are you up to?
Home is The Gambia, but currently living in North Carolina. But, I was playing in Malaysia and involved with the [Gambia] national team.
When you think back on your time in Portland, what are moments that stand out for you? Your favorite moments?
I mean, it will definitely be tough to pick a moment in my Timbers career; lots of memories from the team, to the Timbers Army and the city as well. Some of the moments that stand out would be the inaugural game at home, the Make-a-Wish event that we had with Atticus, scoring against Seattle away and at home in the playoffs, my return from a broken foot in early 2012, partnering with [Pa Modou] Kah and [Donovan] Ricketts in 2013 - Gam-Jam – [laughs]. Of course, the Great Wall of Gambia. In general, that year in 2013 was all memories. But the most memorable of all would be the day I came back from my broken foot in 2012 and heard the noise from the Army when my name was called on the PA and the Army singing “Hold me closer Futty Danso.” That definitely connected me to Portland for life.
What’s your funniest, best memory of the Great Wall of Gambia?
The great wall of Gambia … [laughs] Pa Modou Kah and Futty – both Gambian-born – ending up playing next to each other tens of thousands of miles from home. I think the first day I met Kah and his wife was at a team get together at Will Johnson’s house. He comes walking in and said ‘Hello’ in our language and right away we clicked, and it seemed like we knew each other for many, many years. He and Ricketts actually brought out the best of me both on and off the field. It was like the Unbreakable Brothers. We did everything together. I pretty much would go pick Ricketts up and Pa would join us for training and then after training we would be at Ricketts’ house until bed time. Sometimes I would stay in his spare room for days. That ended up translating on the field.
Kah loves posting on social media, so he’d post everything we do together and the fans were loving it and it was connecting us to the fans and it makes it easy to play in front of them. I remember some fans were saying we should have our own TV show once a week. From shopping cart rides to making t-shirts of teammates faces to ritual pregame dinners at Kah’s house, to the pranks, and piggy-back riding. It is really hard to pick the funniest one, but the shopping cart rides in grocery stores where fun, though.
The Timbers are celebrating a 10th MLS season in 2020, and we’re looking back on special moments. After two seasons with the club during its USL era, you made your MLS debut at our inaugural home match on April 14, 2011. When you reflect back on your MLS debut, what do you recall?
When I recall the April 14 match against Chicago, [it] makes me feel good to be among the players that first stepped out on field at JELD-WEN Field – now Providence Park – to represent a team that I saw grow from USL to MLS. And just to see the excitement that built up from the two previous years leading up to the first [MLS] home opener, was a moment that stays with you forever. The Army was on top of their loudest voice to show MLS and America what Portland is bringing to the league, to the first home win. And of course, giving Gavin [Wilkinson] and Merritt [Paulson] big hugs after the game, telling them thank you for this opportunity. For sure, that night was memory of a life time.
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How do you feel that your time in Portland helped shape you both as a player and as a person?
My time in Portland definitely helped me to grow a lot both on and off the field. It started the night I arrived on a rainy day [laughs], typical day in Portland, but a new thing for a boy from West Africa. Before that night, I didn’t know where Portland was or had even met someone from Portland before. Actually, thought my agent was sending me to Portland, Maine, until I was on the flight and realized that it was a different Portland. I was not liking it at first, but Scot Thompson was really, really helpful in helping me settle in quick. He took me under his wings, along with Cameron Knowles. Scot was picking me up from the hotel to take me around just to make sure I was ok and felt a part of the group. He is one guy, that as a teammate, I will never forget in my career, for all he did for me to be where I am today.
Living in Portland made me grow to like little things and just live the simple life. Everyone is friendly and welcoming and that really taught me a lot in life. I fell in love with the team and city and the people as well. So, my chances of returning to Portland is very high and likely sooner than later. It’s more like home away from home.