photo by John Dorton/ISIphotos.com
By FRANCO PANIZO
Gale Agbossoumonde has accomplished quite a bit in his young career. At 20 years of age, Agbossoumonde has already received his first senior national team cap, played in Europe and won a U.S. Soccer Young Athlete of the Year award.
Even with all that on his growing resume, there's still something he desperately yearns for: Consistent playing time.
The search for minutes at the club level has been a constant theme in Agbossoumonde's career, with the centerback having spent time at five clubs prior to 2012. The time with those teams has not produced much in the way of minutes for Agbossoumonde, and it is for that reason that he finds himself back in the United States, where he will play for the Carolina RailHawks of NASL this season.
"I talked to my agents and they talked with Traffic. I wanted to play in the States, play close to home for a little bit," Agbossoumonde told SBI in an exclusive interview. "It will help me so I get playing time and be close to the family; just to get a good vibe back and help me build my confidence."
One could not blame Agbossoumonde for his loss of confidence. Since beginning his professional career in 2009, the U.S. Under-23 national team defender has lived a nomadic life, moving from club to club while never spending more than seven months with any one team.
Agbossoumonde's most recent loan saw him at Eintracht Frankfurt of the 2. Bundesliga from August 2011 until early this year. During his stay there, Agbossoumonde split time training with the first and second teams, though he never managed to get into a league match for the former.
"I did not get playing time because there were five centerbacks on the first team and all the games they always sent two down and I wasn't one of the ones that played," said Agbossoumonde. "It really was an unfortunate situation and I saw what was happening, so later on when it was getting towards January, I was like 'I need to get out of here to get playing time.' That's when they released me."
The loan with Frankfurt ended this past January, a move that left Agbossoumonde in an all too familiar situation. Facing an uncertain future again, Agbossoumonde decided he had had enough of Europe and wanted to go back to the United States.
Upon his return, he held talks with MLS over a potential deal that would see him join the league he rejected at the start of his career. Ultimately, though, he bypassed that route and elected to sign with the RailHawks on a season-long loan.
When the move was formally announced last week, fans and pundits alike questioned it. How could a talented centerback hoping to make the Olympics ply his trade in the United States' second division? Why would he choose that over MLS?
"I would go in a lottery and I wouldn't be sure where I would end up," said Agbossoumonde of the process he would have gone through in MLS. "I could end up on a team where I wouldn't play again, and I didn't want to put myself in that situation again. I just wanted to get somewhere where I would play. Carolina was the best option."
For Agbossoumonde, the RailHawks offered him an ideal place to develop. He is projected to be a starter for the club and will play under new head coach Colin Clark, who is no stranger to the centerback's combination of skill and size (the two played against one another while Agbossoumonde was with Miami FC in 2009).
"We are very happy to have Gale be a part of our 2012 campaign," Clark told the RailHawks' website. "We are looking forward to see him perform on the field and earn his spot for the Olympic team. He is a talented young player and he will play a big role for us in defense."
Agbossoumonde's contract with the club also requires him to be released should U.S. U-23 head coach Caleb Porter call him up for future camps, including the one in March for Olympic qualifying.
That's a big part of the reason Agbossoumonde was so adamant and active in searching for playing time. With 2012 being an Olympic year and with the United States being favored to advance to the Summer Games in London, Agbossoumonde wants to give himself every chance at making the team whose weakness is largely considered to be in defense.
In order to do that, coach Porter has stressed to Agbossoumonde that he needs to be playing in order to stay fit and sharp, even if the centerback has already noticed.
"I want to get gamefit because you can train hard every day and run fitness, but it is not the same as being matchfit," said Agbossoumonde. "The camp I went to with the U-23s back in December, I was fit going into it. The training was good, I felt fine.
"But then we played in the scrimmages and towards the end of the games, I didn't feel matchfit," said Agbossoumonde, who is still battling the injury that forced him to miss the U-23 team's January camp. "I could feel myself not being as focused and making stupid mistakes that I normally wouldn't make in the beginning of the game. My passes weren't as sharp as I wanted to be and I know it's because I'm not matchfit."
With the Olympics on the horizon and on a club that rates him highly, 2012 could be a big year for Agbossoumonde. His contract with Traffic Sports runs out at the end of the year, and strong performances with both Carolina and the U.S. U-23 team could lead to new interest from clubs around the globe.
Set to become a free agent at the start of 2013, Agbossoumonde has not ruled out a return to Europe should teams come calling. In fact, he welcomes it.
"I definitely want to go back, because it was my dream growing up as a kid," said Agbossoumonde. "I know I could say I was there but I didn't fulfill my dreams. It's like I have unfinished business."
Before he can worry about that, Agbossoumonde needs to finally prove he can put it all together on the field. Carolina has given him the opportunity, and now he must produce in a league that many see as inferior to him.
Fail to do that and more questions will be asked of him. Accomplish it and Agbossoumonde should have no trouble next year finding clubs willing to give him what he has longed for since beginning his career.