By RYAN TOLMICH
Mike Petke has seen his fair share of great soccer players. Having spent time playing with or coaching names such as Juan Pablo Angel, Thierry Henry and Tim Cahill, the New York Red Bulls head coach has experienced some of the game’s elite first hand.
Petke is never the type of coach to throw around unnecessary praise, preferring to let his player’s actions on the field speak louder than his words. However after a string of impressive performances, Petke seems to have pegged the team’s next big star: 23-year-old Ambroise Oyongo.
The Cameroonian, whose name has been etched in the starting lineup at left back since June 27, has become a serious weapon for Petke and co., as the young fullback’s speed and ability to attack has left Petke raving.
“Listen, Oyongo is a player, within the next two years, that big things can happen for him globally,” Petke said of his young fullback after the Red Bulls’ friendly with Arsenal. “He’s a phenomenal young talent that seems to be improving on a weekly basis.”
The key word from Petke is improvement. Oyongo is far from a finished product, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Cahill though echoed Petke’s take on Oyongo, while also pointing to the youngster’s work ethic.
“We’ve been focusing a lot on him and having a complete performance,” Cahill said. “Taking away the mistakes, and the more he takes out of his game, the better he can become, even though he’s one of our shining players at the moment.
“I’m really happy for him because he’s a kid that wants to learn. When he first came in in the preseason, he was the guy in the gym that I could always see early in the morning. Sometimes, you think ‘is it going to last?’. It’s lasted with him. He gets it and he’s working hard.”
Oyongo worked as hard as ever in the Red Bulls last contest, a 1-0 victory over Arsenal. The 23-year-old was the only Red Bull to go a full 90 minutes, switching from left back to left midfielder in order to compliment a returning Roy Miller.
“It was good to see him,” Petke said. “We took an experiment, put him on the left midfield and he did very well with it.”
“He played well,” echoed Henry. “He played really well. With Ambroise, he will give you what he has. Whatever the position that he is playing… Ambroise, I guess, gave some problems to the boss to think about because he played well.”
Those types of problems are far from the type that will keep Petke awake at night. For now, regardless of if he’s in the midfield or defense, Oyongo will become a much bigger problem for the rest of MLS.
“Oyongo is, if he continues to learn, continues to be willing to learn and keeps grounded, I think in the next two years, he is going to be a big name,” Petke said. “That’s my opinion.”
What do you think of Oyongo’s rise to the Red Bulls starting lineup? Think he can become a permanent fixture on the left side for the rest of the season? Do you see him pushing Eric Alexander or Roy Miller out of the lineup?
Share your thoughts below.