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Rhode Island signs Canadian defender Karifa Yao

By NICHOLAS MURRAY -, 01/23/24, 4:52PM EST


Former Whitecaps center back has competed in MLS, Canadian Premier League during career

Rhode Island FC has signed 23-year-old center back Karifa Yao, who joins the club after competing for Vancouver Whitecaps FC in the 2023 campaign.

PAWTUCKET, R.I. – Rhode Island FC announced on Tuesday the club had signed defender Karifa Yao ahead of the 2024 USL Championship season. The transaction is pending league and federation approval.

Yao joins RIFC having spent the past campaign with Vancouver Whitecaps FC of Major League Soccer. The 23-year-old center back made five appearances for the Whitecaps across all competitions while also appearing seven times for reserve team Whitecaps FC 2 in MLS NEXT Pro.

A native of Laval, Quebec, Yao came through the Club de Foot Montreal Academy before joining the professional ranks with CF Montreal as a Homegrown player in 2019. In both 2021 and 2022 he joined Cavalry FC of the Canadian Premier League and made 56 appearances across league and the Canadian Championship for the side.

After his option was declined by Montreal after the 2022 season, Yao was acquired by the Whitecaps in the 2023 MLS Re-Entry Draft and made his debut for Vancouver in the Concacaf Champions League against Real Espana of Honduras last March.


Karifa Yao arrives at Rhode Island FC looking for a fresh start to his career, and his time in the Canadian Premier League should provide optimism he can be a solid option for the first-year club. He drew rave reviews – ranked No. 3 among Canadian U-22 prospects by’s Alexandre Gangué-Ruzic in 2022 – for his performances with Cavalry FC as a defense-first center back after winning 124 duels at a 66 percent success rate and 61 aerial duels at a 72.6 percent clip.

With Rhode Island needing depth on its back line behind two Championship veterans in Frank Nodarse and Grant Stoneman, Yao looks like a player that can provide that and still has the potential to grow into a strong player in the coming years.

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