Like Central America and the Caribbean has been since the league’s inception, MLS is eyeing a new pool of talent in West Africa that can certainly be a lucrative spot for finding young talent.
In what might be called as the dawn of MLS 4.0, the league has quickly transitioned from signing big name international stars on the backside of their careers to now scouring for young, rising talent across the globe. In particular, the growing trend in MLS seems to be finding talent in nation’s such as Ghana and Cameroon and now more recently in Nigeria. Nations that all have a strong track record of producing talent at the international level.
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Now with the league growing in terms of having a true reserves system in place with the USL, teenage talent from Africa can come and develop into first-team talent, all while playing in a competitive league that can be a springboard for a move to Europe. The recent success of Anatole Abang, on loan in Romania from the New York Red Bulls as well as Montreal Impact defender Ambrose Oyongo’s recent signing in France proves that the method is working.
And their success is now leading to more African talent filtering over.
A source tells Metro that Ibrahim Usman is in talks of joining the Seattle Sounders and likely their USL team. A couple weeks ago, the Red Bulls lined up a deal for 18-year old attacker Jerome Philip, a player who is on the radar of his nation’s U-20 national team.
Another source tells Metro that another Nigerian teenager, Muhammed Saleh, will join reigning MLS Cup champions Toronto FC and will start his career with the club in the USL.
It is a formula that has worked well in other places.
Throughout clubs in the English Premier League, France’s Ligue 1 and Germany Bundesliga, top-end talent from West Africa has successfully integrated into top clubs for two decades. Now it appears that MLS is at a point where it can truly latch on to this trend.
When the league started in 1996, players from Jamaica and countries such as El Salvador and Guatemala came to MLS and immediately strengthened the league. In recent years, Honduras and Costa Rica – the Ticos might have as many as 10 players in MLS on their World Cup roster this summer – have all had heavy representation in MLS.
If similar gains can be found in West Africa, then the league can truly develop a reputation for developing and selling talent abroad.