By FRANCO PANIZO
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.”