Daniel C. Yallah, 19, of Philadelphia, a budding soccer star and student who came to the United States from Liberia in pursuit of advancement, died Friday, Nov. 15, of complications from liver cancer at his home.
Mr. Yallah was born in Gbarnga and grew up in a section of the city populated by refugees. He had seven siblings. His grades at the local school qualified him for a private school, where he studied from sixth to the ninth grades.
In the fall of 2015, his mother, Sarah Meemie Yallah, accompanied Mr. Yallah and his two younger siblings, Prosper Philip and Winner, to the U.S. in search of educational opportunities.
In January 2016, his mother died after returning to Liberia to visit relatives. Her death meant that Mr. Yallah, then 16, had to go into foster care, while the younger children stayed with a family friend.
Mr. Yallah was transferred to several foster homes before he could find the right fit. As a junior in high school, Mr. Yallah was finally placed in a foster home in Philadelphia where he flourished.
Mr. Yallah played soccer with FC Delco, a youth soccer club based in Conshohocken. His talent on the soccer field as an attacking midfielder and left back was so convincing that he was scouted by the Philadelphia Union, the city’s professional soccer team.
Mr. Yallah attended YSC Academy, a high school in Wayne for elite soccer student-athletes affiliated with the Union. He also played for Team Liberia in the PHL Unity Cup and helped the team earn its third consecutive championship in 2019.
Alex Graver, the head coach at Harcum College in Bryn Mawr who also coaches for FC Delco, first saw Mr. Yallah play this past spring and was bowled over by his skill.
Graver offered Mr. Yallah a chance to play and study at Harcum. “When do I start?” Mr. Yallah was quoted as saying by PhillyVoice.
Mr. Yallah received a full scholarship and was two weeks away from moving to campus in late July when he was taken to Mercy Fitzgerald Hospital in Darby Borough with severe abdominal pain. A CAT scan showed that he had advanced liver cancer.
“I wasn’t really expecting to hear the word cancer, since it wasn’t really a part of my family,” he told PhillyVoice in an Aug. 27 article. “It was difficult hearing them say I had limited time left."
With his foster family’s support, Mr. Yallah moved into his own Southwest Philadelphia home in August, fulfilling a promise to his mother to create a place for his younger siblings.
He graduated from YSC and gave a moving senior address, said his former mentor and English tutor, Kerry DeFelippo. Throughout his battle with cancer, Mr. Yallah was upbeat. “God has a plan for me, and I’m going to go with it,” he told DeFelippo.
“He taught us that perseverance, sacrifice, and resilience are necessary in the face of hardship,” said Nooha Ahmed-Lee, head of school for YSC Academy. “He loved and was loved unconditionally, and was a light among us.”
When his health began to worsen, he placed his siblings with a family and set up an online trust fund for their care.
Out of respect for Mr. Yallah’s talent that never was fully realized, the Union signed a one-day contract with him to practice with other Union players on Sept. 21.
“It was amazing,” said DeFelippo. “He was sick, and we didn’t know how much he was going to be able to do. He played and had the best time. He was so grateful that he had that opportunity.”
“We are saddened to hear about the passing of Daniel Yallah,” the Union said in a statement. “Talented, yet selfless, Daniel’s only concern after his diagnosis was for his two younger siblings. He will be missed.”
In addition to his younger siblings, Mr. Yallah is survived by siblings, Norah, Florence, Giftlyn, Hilton, and Secret, who live in Africa.
A viewing at 10 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 23, will be followed by 11 a.m. services at West Laurel Hill Funeral Home and Cemetery, 225 Belmont Ave., Bala Cynwyd. Burial is private.