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Bakary Soumare will play for Mali


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Bakary Soumare thought he was close to realizing a dream, but had little idea just how far away he was.

A native of Mali, Soumare spent his formative years as a soccer player in the United States, where his game was honed and reputation made. He owed much of his success as a player to his adopted home country and planned on repaying America by wearing its uniform.

At least that was the plan before he was faced with the harsh reality that he would have to wait at least two more years to receive American citizenship. That fact forced him to make a decision that he not only felt was better for his career, but a decision that he knew some close to him would be very happy with.

Soumare has decided to play for the Mali national team.

Soumare has given up on his quest to play for the U.S. national team and is set to accept a call-up for Mali’s upcoming friendly on Nov. 19 friendly against Algeria in Paris, France. The Chicago Fire’s potential participation in MLS Cup (Nov. 23) could affect Soumare’s involvement in the friendly, but wouldn’t change the fact that Soumare has made the decision to play for Mali.

In an exclusive interview with SBI, Soumare went into detail about his decision and the factors that led to it.

Soumare’s final decision came down to choosing between waiting more than two years in order to play for the United States, and missing out on a chance for international competition during that time, or going with his birth nation, and giving himself a chance to compete in the African Cup of Nations and World Cup qualifying in 2009, as well as a possible trip to the 2010 World Cup.

“I just had to ask myself, ‘Do I really want to wait two and a half years to start playing national team soccer’,” Soumare said. “Knowing that Mali has a good shot at (the 2010 World Cup), and knowing all the chances I could have playing for Mali, I decided to go for it.”

It was just two months ago when Soumare was speaking with excitement about his desire to play for the U.S. national team, but little did he know that the information that led him to believe American citizenship was something he could secure quickly was false.

“It seemed like there were ways to get that process expedited so I thought to myself, ‘if it takes a year then why not (talk about it)’,” Soumare said. “I know that I’ve done my best to be a part of the team here in the United States, I did my homework and everything I could on my end, but it just couldn’t happen.”

“Sometimes things don’t go the way you want them to go,” Soumare said. “In a perfect world I would be playing for the U.S. national team. Everything I am as a person and as a soccer player has been helped by America so I wanted to give back.

“That said, I’m also excited to be playing for Mali,” Soumare said. “My father is very excited, my family back home is very excited. Either way I was going, there were going to be people who would be disappointed.”

Soumare knows one person who would have approved of his decision. His mother, who died just weeks after he was drafted by the Fire, always wanted him to play for Mali and remembering that fact caused Soumare to fight back some emotions as he recalled his mother and considered what she might have thought of his decision.

"That’s one of the things in the past that I thought about but I didn’t want to base my entire decision on that," Soumare said. "When I told my dad, the first thing he said to me is ‘your mother would have been proud to see you play for Mali’."

A finalist for MLS defender of the year, Soumare is prepared to accept a call-up from Mali for the African nation’s upcoming friendly against Algeria in Paris on Nov. 19. At the young age of 22, Soumare is hoping the call-up is the first step toward becoming a regular for a Mali team that boasts several standouts in midfield and at forward, but no real standouts in defense.

Part of Soumare’s decision was having the chance to play for Mali in the African Nation’s Cup and World Cup qualifying in 2009. Those opportunities, along with the chance to potentially play for Mali in the 2010 World Cup, were too difficult to pass up for a 22-year-old with aspirations that include making a club move to Europe.

“Those are a lot of games,” Soumare said. “We are talking about two years worth of soccer games that can help my development as a soccer player, playing in a top international environment and in big competitions.”

With a roster that includes Frederick Kanoute, Mohamed Sissoko, Seydou Keita and Mahamadou Diarra, Mali must finish first in an African World Cup qualifying group that includes Ghana, Benin and Sudan in order to qualify for World Cup 2010. Mali has never qualified for the World Cup.

Born in Mali before moving to France at an early age, Soumare moved to the United States at 15. He played high school soccer in New York City before attending the University of Virginia. He blossomed into a top pro prospect and impressed enough to have the Chicago Fire take him with the No. 2 pick in the 2007 MLS Draft.

After showing some flashes of skill as a rookie, Soumare has enjoyed a breakout second season in MLS, serving as the anchor on a Chicago defense that allowed the second-fewest goals in the league. He has established himself as one of the top central defenders in MLS, as evidenced by his status as an MLS defender of the year finalist.


  1. Baky you made the right choise kid , I know where you come from, thought decision but I see exacly where you going with it. I hope to see you playin somewhere in europe next year or maybe after the 2010 wc, Playin for Mali at the African cup its gonna be just the aportunity he needs to show himself (mls ain’t that commercial) to the word especialy europe, I think he chose right …I wish you alots of luck a happy bd and I think Ives its forgettin your roll the 2002 super Y leage national champs NY ARROWS its that rigth big lip

  2. Thought he would be a long shot to make the US roster in 2010, but a safe bet in 2014…kudos to him for his decision; and I’ll scratch him from my ‘dream team’ CB wit Subotic…

  3. I think this is a major mistake. For someone very young 2 years seems like forever, but its really not.

    I also believe that he is way overestimating Mali’s chances of ever playing in a World Cup. Here is Mali’s WC Record to date.

    1930 to 1962 – Did not enter

    1966 – Withdrew

    1970 to 1990 – Did not enter

    1994 – Withdrew

    1998 – Withdrew

    2002 – Did not qualify

    2006 – Did not qualify

    Even with the African Cup Mali are hardly a power and are currently ranked 53 by FIFA (not that I put that much stock in the rankings).

    African Cup since 1990 – From 1957 through 1990 they did not qualify…

    1990 – Did not qualify

    1992 – Did not qualify

    1994 – Fourth place

    1996 – Did not qualify

    1998 – Did not qualify

    2000 – Did not qualify

    2002 – Fourth place

    2004 – Fourth place

    2006 – Did not qualify

    2008 – Round 1

    Massive mistake and the potential opportunities that visibility with the US National Team would provide.

  4. You get to the world cup any way you can, but really, how legit are Mali’s chances of making it? Would it be better to wait the time for a lock down world cup run, or jump in now and have it come to nothing? Makes me think of Shalrie Joseph.

  5. For those of you bringing up his age, analyze this. He is 22 now. 2010 he will be 24. By 2014 he will be 28. Thats really 6 years he needs to wait to go to a World Cup. I can see his reasoning. Especially, if he doesn’t make it onto the team as a starter or reserve. 28 is a borderline age. Either you maintain your skill or begin to lose those abilities you had at 22.

  6. This isn’t what I wanted to hear but I hope Bakary has nothing but success with Mali. The kid is a class act and he’s one of my favorites on the Fire. Personally, I wish he’s wait out the 2 years and play for the USA but his choice is understandable.

  7. Foteh has a good point. I know it crosses an ethical line, but why not fast track citizenship to naturalize Soumare? It’s not like he just got into the country either. He’s been here for 7 years. The funny thing is if he got adopted by an American family he would’ve been a citizen by now. Or if he married an American when he turned 18 he would’ve been a citizen by now. But simply being in the country for 7 years and having a desire to represent this country means you wait 2 more years to be a citizen.

  8. Most European countries would have fast tracked Bakari’s request to get citizenship, so that he can represent the country, if he as good as I read just now. Croatia for instance allowed Eduardo, a brazilian born footballer to play for their national team and he can hardly speak the lingo!

    Tunisia did the same with 2 other brazilians (Carlton and Dos Santos) who went on to become some of their best players. With their contribution Tunisia won the African Cup of Nations in 2004. I think Soumaré should have exceptionally been allowed to gain US citizenship and show his gratitude to his adoptive country. Well, Mali will now relish the prospect of getting someone this good to reinforce their defence, which lacked a bit of consistence lately. Good luck kid!

  9. 1. Earnie Stewart was NOT an expedited case. He was born in the USA, his dad was a US citizen. If you’re born here, you qualify for US citizenship.

    2. Stupid decision by Bakary. He’s young and in a hurry. But every African nation has a bunch of talent (heck, even South Africa–a pitiful team by the rest of Africa’s standards has talent). But it’s real hard tosee Mali finishing first in their group. Which means he sits out the WC.

    Here’s my bet: if Soumare had waited his 2 years for US citizenship, by 2014….

    –have twice as many caps with the US in 4 years than with Mali in 6 years

    –would be a near certainty to be playing in the 2014 World Cup with the US (while would be a longshot to be playing in the WC with Mali)

    And there’s one last issue: African players playing outside of their home country–unless they play for a big club like Barca, Real Madrid, ManU, etc. often find that a combination of corruption and poor infrastructure limits their callups. So guys like Olisedebe with Poland just give up hope of being a consistent part of their NT and take citizenship somewhere else.

    This was a dumb move by this kid, eager to get into a WC. In some ways, it’s going to be like Shalrie Joseph (except Shalrie has a good reason for doing with Grenada–he didn’t grow up in the States and learn the game here).

  10. What’s wrong with this dude fa*k him can’t wait two more year for USA? He is only 23 this year.There is no chance him playing in WC 2010 anyways.Wrong decision dude.

  11. Best wishes to the kid. Like many others, I would have liked to see him play for us but it appears that it wasn’t meant to be. When a player has multiple options for play internationaly, it can be a really difficult decision sometimes. Having said that, I still don’t have much patience and zippy time for Rossi. I don’t wish anything bad for him. I just have no interest in him.

  12. When you’re 22, two years seems like forever. Unfortunately this is a decision that will last much longer. Mali may never make a World Cup. Too bad, I was looking forward to seeing him play for us.

  13. I’d love to visit Mali. That aside, I wish him the best of luck. It’s a tough choice, but I think he did the right thing for him, which is all that really matters.

  14. He’s 22 – to give up the chance to play for a near WC-certainty for the crap shot of Mali doesn’t make much sense to me.

    It reeks of immaturity and could hurt his career down the road….many teams pass on African internationals due to the ridiculous amount of MNT fixtures that clash with many of Europes big leagues. (Exceptions made for the likes of Drogba, Essien etc…).

    He shoudl hold off, if he really wants the US, else the kid was born in Mali so it’s not like he’s a traitor or anything.

  15. I believe he is still a generation Adidas player and he makes 103k a year. If the MLS has him under contract for a few more years they could make a good return on their investment and show that they can develop top notch players.

    In my opinion a lot of these National Team decisions end up coming down to financial decisions for the players and in my opinion rightfully so. He knows he can get exposure on the international stage while he is still young and can further his career and get a bigger pay day faster. Waiting to get a call up with the US national team could cost him millions of dollars in a career that is very short.

    Do you really think the Brazilian players that end up playing in the Middle East prefer the lifestyle and the way of life there over the samba in Brazil. You know they all miss Carnival, but it is always better with lots of cheddar.

  16. JL said: “why doesn’t the USSF have some lobbying powers to help these guys get fast tracked?”

    According to Gullit, the powers that be don’t do that kind of thing because they are quaking in their boots with fear that the NFL might notice and squash them like bugs. Splat!

  17. I am feeling unspeakable passionate joy as someone who would love to see Baky in either uniform.

    Rossi? Totally different case. And Mali needs strong defenders. Their keepers have typically been pretty shaky.

  18. I’m saddened to some degree because I really wanted Soumare to represent the country he’s has grown to love and adore. I had dreams of a Subotic-Soumare combo for years to come. One one is gone and the other might be, too. Man, the dreams have been crushed!! 🙁

    On the other hand, I totally understand and respect Soumare’s decision. I’d do the same if I were in his shoes. The timing sucks, though. There was an opportunity for Soumare to capitalize on his success and he took it. Mali should be proud to have him. They have a very good and upcoming squad backboned by Diarra, Sissoko, Keita, Kanouté, and Diakité, who reminds me of a young Patrick Vieira. With Soumare’s talent he should fit right in and could provide a stable, effective, and skillful young defender. The US may of lost him but the development of Soumare, when he does eventually move to Europe, is something MLS can hang their hat on. It will look good for the league. Who knows, maybe he becomes an ambassador of sorts for the league and can inspire some young talent Malians to look into MLS.

  19. JL – I’m a green card holder. The law to become a US citizen did not change after 9/11. Basically, you need to be a green card holder for 5 years before you can apply for US citizenship, unless you join the military or marry a US citizen.

    The process itself might take longer after 9/11 because a lot more green card holders decided to apply for US citizenship, but not because of law changes.

  20. Wasn’t Ernie Stewart also an expedited case?

    Sad to see him not be eligible for USA, but happy for him nonetheless. I wish him well and hope Mali can make it to the World Cup Finals.

  21. I’m happy for Soumare. From all that I’ve read about the guy, he seems quality. And practicing against the likes of Kanoute and Diarra will only help him become an even better player.

  22. northzax – he gotta have a green card. Otherwise, he wouldn’t be able to apply for US citizenship.

    milkshake of despair – Dooley had US citizen father, while Regis’s wife is US citizen. Bakary probably only have a green card. Thus, there’s not much US Soccer can do.

  23. this may seem silly, but why doesn’t the USSF have some lobbying powers to help these guys get fast tracked? ever since 9/11 citzenship has become increasingly difficult, and yet in america, we all know the dollar gets you what ever you need. I would like to see the USSF start some type of process to make these things go a lil smoother and quicker. not saying this is the USSF fault by any means, its clearly over their heads, just saying I would like to see them flex some financial muscle.

  24. milkshake –

    It was david regis, and there was some loophole they exploited that was special to his case to get it done in such a short time, I think (he was married to an american too, I believe). But isn’t it great that we don’t HAVE to naturalize fullbacks on the spot anymore!? Would be great to have him, but US soccer is a lot deeper than it used to be!

  25. An expedited citizenship is possible, but US Soccer has to be interested in pushing it through. I forget who exactly, but they did it back in ’94 and ’98 (Dooley and David Regi?) and it only took a month or so as I recall.

  26. I honestly was never impressed by his play however I feel for him in this situation, with him not being able to gain citizenship and all. However, in the long run USA will probably be better than Mali (I’m hoping.) Mali does have a couple of good players though and I could actually see the country getting far in WCQ

  27. agree, this is about Bakary, not Rossi. Nice article, Ives, I enjoyed reading it.

    While looking forward to Bakary in a US jersey, no hard feelings. Btw, I echo that citizenship is not harder here than a lot of countries. Ask about Mexican rules. Just facts, no hate here.

    I wonder about Bakary’s decision from a soccer standpoint however: Mali MIGHT go to the WC. MIGHT. The US more than likely will this time and in future ones. Hard to say about Mali ever. I enjoy reading about HIS joy, but again, I think soccer wise, he had more opportunity here—assuming he could make our team. I have no assessment on that end.

    Bakary: best of luck. Represent your country of heritage well! And you mother!

  28. what’s with all the hate for Rossi? I’m asking honestly because I don’t know his story. Maybe he had a good (and emotional) reason to suit up for Italy–as Soumary did with Mali–is that possible?

  29. Congrats to him. Although, I wanted to see him with the USA just like many others, I’m happy for him. He’s a good player whom I enjoy watching. He’s one of the good players in the league that will likely bring in a hefty transfer fee. His time with Mali will only help him. This is also good for the league. It helps MLS credibility to see a youngster develop here and make it to a foreign country’s national team.

  30. NOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I’m shocked, and really pissed. Not mad at Bokary but more how long it takes for people to become citizens and why he can’t play for us. All the respect goes to bokary, but i was counting on him to be in our line up for 2014 and a contributer to 2010.

    I bet we get Subotic now. We lose Rossi, and get Torres. We lose bokary and get Subotic. Subotic would be a lot bigger plus than Bokary similarly how rossi would’ve been a bigger plus than torres.

  31. oh, and for anyone who thinks the US citizenship process is too hard, it is still easier than almost anywhere else. And no, we shouldn’t make exceptions for atheletes very often.

  32. Rossi…. LOl the more i read about Rossi the more im Glad he is not in the USA, he would of been a a head case for the States. just like Castillo is a head case for Mexico…. is not about the name in the back of the Jresey… is about the colors in front of your Jersey………. we are good right now….. Bye Rossi

    Wont miss you when i See Jozy kissing the crest of his national Jersy….!!!!

  33. sounds like the right decision for him, professionally and personally. He’s not a lock for the US evens after getting papers, especially since it looks like he’d be trying to break in during a Cup year, which is almost impossible for a defender. Get some caps and international experience even better to get that in a Fed heavily populated with players in Europe. Even if he got an expedited passport, who’s he competing against for a spot? Gooch? Boca? Orozco? Maybe Subotic? Not great chances for lots of pt.

    By the way, Ives, does Soumare have a green card?

  34. Thanks for trying, kid. See, if we cared about soccer, we’d have fast-track citizenship to take care of things like this.

    Anyway, he should have fun playing with Mali, it’s a good team with the likes of Diarra, Sissoko, and Kanoute staring. Plus, the African Cup of Nations looks like one of the most fun tournaments in the world, even if it plays heck on Euro fixtures.

  35. It’s too bad our citizenship process is so difficult. It is understandable that someone who was brought up through our system believed that he was going to be elibible much sooner than most, and it is a blow that he won’t be playing for the US. That being said, best of luck to a very talented player who made the correct decision.

  36. What a difference between Bakary and Rossi. One appreciates his growth in the US and circumstances didn’t allow him to fullfill totally that appreciation, the other thought little of his growth in the US, went to Italy and has completely forgotten the US. It shows that the US is the land of opportunity and we take it for granted and here we have a young imigrnat who appreciates the chances afforded him and wanted to say thank you. why can’t we born US citizens show that same appreciation for our country more often?

  37. First time I saw him play I was very impressed. He immediately reminded me of Patrick Viera with his physical similarities and his style of play.

  38. That’s really too bad. I was looking forward to seeing him don the red, white and blue. And please let me ask everyone, do not treat this man like you treat Giuseppe Rossi. He tried his hardest to play for us, and things didn’t work out. He didn’t turn his back on us like Rossi did… I’m just saying, let’s treat him fairly. I wish him the best of luck with Mali.

  39. One country’s loss is another country’s gain. I can’t blame him at all for his decision considering the circumstances. Best of luck to him and to Mali, I’ll be pulling for them.

  40. what a surprise this is, I was totally looking forward to see bakary next year with the usa I believe he would have def competed for a starting role in 2010. Good luck to him though hes good player


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