By RYAN TOLMICH
Gale Agbossoumonde was in need of a change of scenery. Once a highly touted prospect with senior national team experience, the 23-year-old defender had lost his way as he was hitting some of the most important moments of his professional career.
After starting strong with Toronto FC, Agbossoumonde was dealt to the Colorado Rapids, who never gave the defender a chance on the field. Having failed to registered a single appearance with the Rapids, Agbossoumonde had reached a professional low.
“Last year was really, really hard for me. I didn’t play. I didn’t see the field,” Agbossoumonde told SBI. “I was injured a little bit. The previous year in Toronto, I thought I got better as the season went on, but we weren’t winning, so the coaches made changes, which are things you can’t really control. From there, I went downhill.”
Fortunately for Agbossoumonde, a new opportunity has presented itself, one with a guardian angel of sorts.
The center back, who featured in Portugal, Sweden and Germany prior to returning to North America with the Carolina RailHawks in 2012, signed a deal with the Tampa Bay Rowdies in December, reuniting himself with a familiar face in recently hired head coach Thomas Rongen.
Rongen and Agbossoumonde have a prolonged history together, as the defender has found himself under the tutelage of the Dutch coach at both the club and international level. Rongen most recently worked with Agbossoumonde as head of the TFC academy from 2012-14, but the duo’s best work came when Rongen mentored the center back as the head coach of the U.S. U-20 Men’s National Team.
“Him and Chad Marshall were probably the two best young center backs I’ve ever coached when they were 17, 18, 19,” Rongen said of Agbossoumonde. “On my recommendation, Gale, as an 18-year-old, got a senior cap against South Africa. He’s been in Europe, he’s been in NASL, he’s been with Toronto and Colorado, and I think he’s a guy that believes in me.
“I believe in him. That’s a guy that’s still at a very young age and can make a tremendous impact if somebody really believes in him. He’s going to come prove himself.”
That belief is exactly what drew the center back to Tampa Bay. In need of playing time and a little bit of confidence, a reunion with Rongen made perfect sense for Agbossoumonde, who believes his coach still has the ability to get the best out of him.
“He helped me a lot with developing as a player,” Agbossoumonde said. “I feel like I got away from where I’ve been as a player and I want to get back to where I was. I feel like he will help me a lot. He understood me. He knows the player that I am and he’ll help me develop my game.
“That’s one of the main reasons why and, of course, I just need playing time. I feel like, having been with Rongen in the past, he just knows who I am and I can develop my game with him and get more playing time to get back to where I was.”
Agbossoumonde knows he has the faith of Rongen, who has seen the best of what the defender has offered thus far. However, the 23-year-old also wants to re-earn the faith of everyone else who has written him off as a result of his recent struggles.
“I want to really, not just prove to Thomas, but prove to the soccer community,” Agbossoumonde said. “I know the player that I am and I know the player that I can be, and I feel that I went kind of wrong here and there, but those are things that will make me stronger as a player. I feel like that will help me go forward from here.”