SBI MLS Spotlight

MLS Spotlight: Agbossoumonde ready for fresh start to career after disappointing early years


American soccer has had no shortage of players who have failed to live up to high expectations. Young players with exciting ability who never quite managed to live up to the promise and potential they showed early on in their careers.

Gale Agbossoumonde readily admits that, at the moment, he falls into that category, but age is on his side. At 21, Agbossoumonde still has plenty of time to develop and that is the motivating factor for him as he prepares to embark on his career’s latest journey in 2013.

Having recently signed with MLS, and picked up by Toronto FC in a weighted lottery that five other teams took part in, Agbossoumonde is finally set to play in the league that he turned down twice before. It is the latest change for Agbossoumonde, who is now represented by James Grant Sports after ending a three-and-a-half-year deal with Traffic Sports, the management company which held his rights since he became a professional in August 2009.

All of it is a welcome change for Agbossoumonde, who is aiming to make some noise in MLS in 2013 while turning the page on a rough start to his career. A start that saw him bounce around Europe and North America at an age when most American players are enjoying their college playing careers.

“It’s a new experience and I kind of went off the path in my career and I want to get back on the road, so this coming season, I’m hoping for it to be my breakout year,” Agbossoumonde told SBI. “Toronto is close to home (in Syracuse, New York), it’s like a four-hour drive so my family will be there watching games, and hopefully I make a good first impression and have a good preseason, so I can get a lot of playing time.”

The hulking 6-foot-2 centerback has yet to talk to Toronto FC head coach Paul Mariner, but TFC expressed an interest in him when he signed with the league. Convinced there would be plenty of chances for him to break into the lineup or, at the very least, find steady playing time, Agbossoumonde wasted no time in reciprocating those feelings.

Toronto FC, although poor in 2012, could have a jam-packed schedule this year. They are set to play the Montreal Impact in the 2013 Canadian Championship semifinals in April, and winning that tournament would push TFC into the 2013-14 CONCACAF Champions League.

“That was one of the main reasons why (agent Chris Megaloudis) thought Toronto was a perfect place for me,” said Agbossoumonde. “To have a lot of games, to have a chance that I’ll get to play, and I could compete for a starting spot. … I believe I can do it, it’s just a matter of doing it now.”

Agbossoumonde has been training on his own since his season with NASL’s Carolina RailHawks came to a close. He recently spent time practicing with former U.S. youth teammate Joe Gyau, is now playing indoor soccer in Syracuse and expects to partake in Carlos Bocanegra’s soccer camp later this month, all in an effort to try and make a good first impression in Toronto.

That is a lesson he has learned after spending a nomadic first few years in Europe and the United States. Agbossoumonde played for clubs in Germany, Sweden, Portugal and two lower division American sides, but never found a stable home under Traffic, and that constant bouncing around hindered his development.

“I wish things would’ve worked out differently, but those situations were out of my hands,” said Agbossoumonde. “All I could do is play and have no say in any kind of thing. I tried to play through it, push through it and try to have off-field things not affect my concentration on the pitch.

“It wasn’t an ideal three years that I had, but again I can’t complain about it, because at the end of the day, they were paying the salary and helping me take care of my family.”

While Agbossoumonde sounds like he has no ill will towards the controversial Traffic, and would recommend it to certain up-and-comers looking to move to Europe, he also did not hesitate to say he would change how he approached things when he was a teenager looking to start his pro career. Agbossoumonde turned down an initial MLS contract in 2009 because he felt the salary offered was too low, but now acknowledges that that may have been the wrong decision.

“(Going to Europe right away has) been a good experience and I learned a lot from it, but maybe if I had to do it again I would’ve gone to MLS sooner because I was young,” said Agbossoumonde. “Maybe if I would’ve gone to MLS instead of Europe, I would’ve known more of what is expected of me as a professional because I didn’t really know.”

Last winter, still under Traffic’s direction, Agbossoumonde had a second chance to join MLS. He passed on the offer, choosing instead to play out the remainder of his contract with Traffic Sports with the second-division RailHawks. Agbossoumonde cited the uncertainty that signing with MLS, and being allocated to a team via a lottery, would bring as a reason why he passed on the league yet again.

Given his current situation, it may seem like Agbossoumonde lost a year of his development playing in NASL instead of MLS but he doesn’t see it that way. The Togo-born defender enjoyed his time in Carolina, especially because of how much he learned about soccer and himself under the tutelage of head coach Colin Clarke.

“He pushes you a lot in training and throughout the season, he was saying my training habits weren’t good and he helped me improve my training habits,” said Agbossoumonde. “He made me change into just being a better professional and that was the most important thing I took out of Carolina. Hopefully, I can take that with me for the rest of my career.”

Agbossoumonde may have spent a year adapting to the American style of play in NASL and played against MLS clubs in the U.S. Open Cup, but he does not think those will be the biggest contributing factors to his adjustment to MLS. Rather, he believes his previous career experiences will aid him as he tries to acclimate to new surroundings yet again.

“I already have a base of what the style is because even before I signed with Traffic, I was training in New England for a little bit and I saw the style,” said Agbossoumonde. “It’s different than the styles in Germany and Portugal, it’s kind of similar to Sweden, but now that I’ve had the experiences and learned from all different styles, I think that really benefits me more than playing in NASL and seeing what the American style is.”

Regardless of how he adapts to MLS, Agbossoumonde finding an apparent stable home is something he is happy for and so are many of his former teammates. Agbossoumonde received an outpour of support on Twitter and elsewhere when it was known he’d be joining MLS and Toronto FC.

“A lot of my ex-teammates reached out to me and congratulated me and told me just to work hard and it gives me a lot of motivation,” said Agbossoumonde. “I’ve seen a lot of my teammates from before like Terrence (Boyd) and Juan (Agudelo), they’re big now. When those guys are reaching out to you and telling you ‘congrats’ and things like ‘You can get there’, it gives me a lot of motivation to get to where I want to be, which is playing on the national team and hoping one day of going back to Europe if I have some good MLS seasons.”

That doesn’t mean Agbossoumonde is already counting the days to a return to Europe. After the tumultuous early years of his career, and thanks to the chance for some stability, he has found some peace in signing with MLS and is hopeful of spending several years in the league.

“It’s definitely where I want to be,” said Agbossoumonde. “It’s the best place for me, for my development. Maybe if I learned that early on, I wouldn’t have went this route early on, but it’s all a learning process for me. As long as I’m learning and progressing, then that’s what I want.”

  • Shane

    Another example of why going to college is better for most promising soccer players. Young kids bouncing around from club to club all in the name of money over development.


    • Patrick

      Wrong. Another example of why traffic sports, and third parties shouldn’t be allowed tohold the rights to players. Traffic sports Only saw a big transfer fee in Boss, and nothing more. THATS why he bounced around so often


    • 2tone

      Meh. There are differnt routes. Gatt skipped college and he is doing just fine. Gyau is seeing more minutes. There are plenty of MLS academy players that are doing just fine when they decdide to skip college and go pro with their respective MLS teams.


      • @NotAlexis

        I think collegiate soccer is the worst thing a young player can have in development. Not enough games, can’t play with pros, development is variable and not a consistent buildup like they would get through an academy. Academy is the secret to a well developed young player. It’s how they do it in the rest of the world and why their players can be pro ready at a young age. Frankly I would love it if our lower twits were full of academy players (whether that means those teams have their own academies or its MLS academies playing with them (FIFA rules considered). It makes no point to send a potential starting national team player to a college team and hope their developments continue in the style you want versus just doing it yourself. It’s not the same as basketball or football where the skill of a player dictates his development. You build great footballers, not hope someone else does it. It’s why great players like Dempsey are only getting their due at almost 30 versus at 23.


      • chris

        I think youre a little confused/uniformed. College is not an alternative to the academy. The Academy is ages 9-18 while college is ages 18-22. It comes down to whether turning pro early on is better than a couple of years in college. I find it very hard to believe that playing college ball drasticly kills a players developement.

        You complain about lack of games yet Hernandez (who signed from Philly’s youth academy last year and skipped college) only played 26 minutes in 2 games this season while Francois (the same age and played for Philly’s Academy as well) played in 24 games. Look at Ruben Luna. He led the academies in scoring signed with Dallas got no playing time and is no longer in the league while players his same age that played college are laping hime. College teams also play a spring season of sorts where they train for weeks and play scrimmages every now and then. Top players also play in the PDL during the summer adding another 20 games. Add in preason training and youve got players playing 9 months out of 12.

        Players can train with professionals as the top ones often do such as Gyasi Zardes training with Liverpool and Friedburg. Plus the many that train with MLS teams in the summer.

        At the college age it becomes less about development and more about getting games. How is going to college for a couple years any different than the hundreds of young players in Europe that get loaned out to lower division teams for playing time? Or what about the players that grow up away from MLS academies? Are they suppossed to give up on soccer because they didnt fit into the academy system?


      • Chas

        I believe your comments reflect a more realistic view of academies and college experience. Each have pluses and minuses and both are viable.


      • The Imperative Voice

        Re Gyau you did notice the article said he trained with Gyau not St. Pauli what does that mean?


      • Edwin in LA

        That Gyau is on Holiday break because the Bundesliga gets a winter break to get away from the snow and cold winter…you know because they get a few weeks off in Germany to enjoy the December holidays?


    • NC Jeff

      If college were the best way for an 18yo to develop, I believe that would be the more common path in England, Germany, Spain, Brazil, Mexico, etc. Of course, there, they are often brought along into pro play by their academy. Here, without a really good academy system yet, it’s usually an immediate sink or swim test, rather than having people they’re familiar with bringing them along in a somewhat coherent manner.

      I think “The Boss” really enjoyed his time here and refined his game to a level where he can provide consistently solid play for a MLS-level team … though at just 21yo, I think he’ll keep improving for a few more years. Here’s wishing him all the best at that …


      • Strider257

        Sorry Jeff. Universities in Europe are VERY different than in the U.S. Probably the biggest difference in this discussion is that they don’t give scholarships for athletics. It is up to sports clubs (track, gymnastics, etc. as well as soccer) to develop athletes. So, there is no comparable platform in the college/univ. system there. In most european countries your future is determined early in high school or earlier when you have tested into or out of a university track for education. If you don’t do well enough soon enough you end up in a “trades” school and are not eligible for a university.


      • Neruda

        Well said. At least in the European countries I’ve been too you didn’t see a lot of swag around the big universities and here in the US a big part of a universities cache is a successful sports program hence it’s good to wear a cap from your favorite school or alma mater if they have good teams. Over there it’s athletic clubs like Real Madrid which has futbol, baloncesto (basketball) and maybe they have others too.


    • 2tone

      Actually it’s probably the best situation for him. He will have plenty of opportunities to get playing time. That is the most important thing for a young player.


    • The Imperative Voice

      People knock the draft, and a bad team does not necessarily mean your position is wide open, but in theory a weaker team is an easier place to break in than a strong one. Look at a team like the Dynamo and how much their young players actually play. He’d sit behind Boswell, Taylor, and Brunner, and if he played poorly a few times and/or showed any attitude he’d get flushed quickly.

      If this was Europe we might look at the overall quality of the system and it might matter how good the setup was even if he wasn’t first team. In Germany you can play on a B team even if your first team future is limited. But MLS you want to be somewhere a rookie might get playing time.


  • Kojo

    He’s still raw so who at Toronto is going to guide him on how to develop into a quality centerback? Just seems that he is going to have to develop with trial and error since TFC has a pretty weak defensive line. Hopefully he will be given time to develop.


    • 2tone

      Uhm. O’Dea who is an Irish international and Danny Califf. Both very good mentors for Boss.


      • The Imperative Voice

        I think you’re over-stating the veteran mentor value, the key to the situation to me is instead that Califf is old and injury prone enough he and Henry will have a percentage chance to start in MLS just by showing up.


  • Alex C

    He is now represented by “James Grant Sports” according to this article. They list Clint Dempsey, John O’Shea, Bocanegra, and a few other well known players under their “clients” web page. So hopefully this is a better arrangement than the previous one. I did not realize a lot of players were represented by organizations like this.


    • The Imperative Voice

      You’re giving Traffic too much credit, the appearance to me is he was shipped around mostly to teams Traffic part owned….Miami, Carolina, etc.

      He’s not a free agent though, he’s a draftee. Beyond setting his price and taking 10-15% the agent didn’t have the hardest job here. If Gale A. plays well then the agent will earn his paycheck later.


  • 2tone

    The dude has plenty of time to get back on track. Boss is the same age as Gonzales was when he came into MLS. Now Omar will have a chance to move onto a bigger league at the age of 25.

    If Boss can start to be a dominant CB in MLS then he will be right in the conversation for USMNT call-ups after 2014.

    Possible CB’s after 2014

    Okugo- Who I think will be moved back to DM this year, so I don’t really forsee him at CB in the long run.

    This will be the CB depth after 2014.


    • chris_thebassplayer

      I’m happy for Boss. His deal with Traffic was a complete disaster and hinderance. He’s still just a baby for a CB. Looking forward to him getting some playing time in MLS.


      • Tim M.

        hahaha. when we’re 15 we all think we know it all though, don’t we?


      • CroCajun

        What’s wrong with his list? Why don’t you add something to the conversation.


      • The Imperative Voice

        Not that impressive, I agree with his pithy assessment.

        Ream? Meyer? Even some of the better players have limited or no caps.


    • Norn Iron

      Have you seen this guy play? If you had, you would understand that this kid is NOWHERE NEAR ready to play for the MNT. Last season at the Carolina Railhawks I watched this kid routinely make baffling decisions in the defense that quite often led to goals for the opposing team, and the competition level in the NASL is hardly international level.

      He assuredly needs much more time with higher quality players to even be anywhere near the MNT radar. Trust me, based on what I’ve personally seen, this is NOT somebody we want on the back line in a major international game.


  • Rory Miller

    Wasted a few years chasing a bigger payday than MLS could offer. College ball would have suited him better, but straight into an MLS side a couple years ago would have been even better.


    • Darwin

      I’ll take the 21 year old head-in-the-game BOSS over the 18 year old unprofessional BOSS.


  • Bobb

    I remember seeing Boss play with our youth team vs Mexico in some tournament where he scored the equalizing goal, and he really stood out. But since then he has pretty much wasted two and a half crucial years of development time. Can he recover? Maybe, it is CB where players bloom a bit later. But from what I saw of him in Sweden, while physically and technically he is very impressive, he makes mental mistakes, and that can be disastrous for a defender. So mental mistakes on the field and off (his management of his entire pro career up to this point, ever since he chose Traffic Sports over MLS for a bit of extra cash)… that has me thinking he’s not going to make it. People underestimate the mental stuff, but it’s why Clint Dempsey is where he is and Danny Szetela is where he is. If I was a betting man, I would sell my Boss stock, but I’m rooting for him to prove me wrong.


  • Rick

    I don’t agree that playing 3 months a year in college would have been a better option then training nearly year round with grown men playing to feed their families


    • The Imperative Voice

      If Boss had gone to an elite college program and played for at least a couple years I think he’d be ahead of where he is now. He would have been a golden boy among boys, handed PT, instead of a raw boy among men. He’d have been a high draft pick at a salary where he had leverage. Now if he’d been in some German team…..maybe. They could walk him through age groups.

      But as it is, what’s the market rate for a Carolina Railhawk? Fudge that a little for his promise, but you really think versus being the top CB in NCAA he gets more as a minor league diceroll? He has lost nearly all leverage.

      For that matter, people used to have this debate re NBA and they basically got sick of getting physically and mentally unprepared kids, and required a college year. In theory if you come out raw you risk not getting your stuff together fast enough and getting flushed…..I mean, isn’t that his career story so far? Essentially in over his head? If they cut you for being too raw to bother with, after a couple years, what’s your pro salary then? $0. It’s a balance, you’re trying to not give up too many years and salary to college or something like that, while not going pro so early you are basically judged for being a kid playing among men.


  • Tim M.

    “Maybe if I would’ve gone to MLS instead of Europe, I would’ve known more of what is expected of me as a professional because I didn’t really know.”

    And how many, young american prospects have fallen victim to these situations since the beginning of the past decade?

    God Freddy, if only you would of agreed with Inter Milan


    • The Imperative Voice

      What if there was no 18 year old rule via FIFA and Americans could go sign with a foreign academy? Cause that’s what I see players like Adu, Renken, and Gyau bumping up against.

      Because the reality is Freddy had to sign here to go pro pre-18, and whether ManU or whoever wanted to sign him then was academic.

      I basically see two ways to improve the opportunities for players like Gale A. — you either improve the domestic system of clubs, academies, and Bradenton — or we should fight to get the FIFA rule dropped to 16 so that US players could get into European (or Mexican???) academies to be trained up there instead, Because once we get to the 18-20 age groups Americans can get over there by, they’re shifting from development to first team mentality. You can see even with someone as promising as Boyd, if they don’t see you as the first team future….flush. So we really need to be further back on that curve.


  • LIUnited

    Is Boss the next Adu? This guy gets more comments for being a completely unproven player. I know both are still young but call me when they actually contribute to a team that is performing well.


    • The Imperative Voice

      To me it’s more like Adu when he first signed. Whatever people including I may say about him, Freddy has proven to be a decent MLS player. Maybe not worthy of his paygrade and rep, but a solid pro. Boss is like where Adu was when he first signed, all rep and theory and like you say, nothing proven. But since Adu has gone on to have some OK productive seasons, it’s almost harsh to Freddy (or flattering to Boss) to say Boss is him.


  • Brian

    There are two lessons learned in all this….

    1) A management company like Traffic Sports should not be allowed to own a player’s rights. Rights should be held by either a team or the player himself if he is out of contract. Btw, while I disagree with the setup, a single entity leauge functions as a team in this scenario.

    2) The allocation system for US players needs to be abolished. He cited uncertainty over the allocation process as a reason he turned down an MLS offer. He probably feels the same way now but has given in because he just wants to get his career back on track. Having to compete for promising talent like Boss would force to teams like Toronto to build/maintain better organizations.


    • the unmistakeable Ronaldinho

      Citing 1 example of a player not liking the allocation process as a reason to scrap the entire idea is a bit harsh don’t you think?

      MLS has plenty of quirky rules that not many people completely understand, but the continued progress of the league speaks for itself, I think. Clubs are finally starting to get out of the red, that has been, and should continue to be, one of the top concerns of the league for now


    • The Imperative Voice

      The allocation process mirrors the draft in giving the first opportunity to weaker teams. Trying to avoid every acquisition wanting to sign for LA or NY. I’m sure the players want to maximize salary and go to prestige teams but I’m not sure encouraging either is in the league’s interest.

      I’m sorry, I like some of the entry drafts, I have no desire to imitate the Big Club system of the EPL. The things I think should go away are the homegrowns — until we can actually develop players from U10 to first team properly — and the re-entry draft, which is fake free agency.

      But I think since we are trying to maintain a healthy amount of teams all of which cannot be successful at the same time, you need the parity re-shuffle of the draft. Perhaps when the league is more financially stable we might open things up, but for now I have no urge to purposefully tier the league as motivation for the weakest teams. Let’s be honest: LA is not even competing on the same financial level as most other teams, some of whom have 1 DP or none. The only one Houston has is a DP solely based on transfer fee expense, not salary.

      FWIW, the Traffic experience should give Boss pause before making these sorts of cash nexus arguments.


    • The Imperative Voice

      I agree re Traffic, the impression I got is that rather than truly playing agent they were staffing teams they owned and bouncing him around. They might have entertained transfers to MLS or elsewhere and did some trials to that end, but they were looking to maximize return and not best locate the player. Because if a player is desired in MLS Carolina made no sense…..except they own it and could not satisfactorily cash out on a MLS move.

      He’s not the only one, Greg Garza is now at Tijuana but he bounced around a bit too. If players seem to flourish “after Traffic” if at all that is a bad sign.


  • cwell

    The worst outcome would be that GA doesn’t make it in MLS (injury, performance), his pro stock plunges and he finds himself without an education or much of a future. Presumably, college or an academy would have added that to his c.v.


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