By Whitney Warren
Life could have been very different for Gale Agbossoumonde and his family. The 17 year-old defender—who was recently called up to the US Under-20 team to compete in the 2009 CONCACAF U-20 Championship, which kicks off on Friday—has arrived at this juncture in his career far differently than most of his teammates.
One of seven siblings, Agbossoumonde was born in Togo. In the early 1990s, the small West African nation underwent several upheavals as President Gnassingbe Eyadema struggled to retain power. With political clashes and violence erupting throughout the country, the Agbossoumonde family fled its homeland and took asylum in a refugee camp in neighboring Benin.
It was there, on dusty, makeshift pitches that Agbossoumonde, his brother Mawuena, and the rest of his siblings, began to develop their soccer skills and passion for the game. With the help of the Catholic Charities Refugee Resettlement program, the family relocated to the United States, arriving in Syracuse, NY, in 2000. There, Agbossoumonde soon established himself as a star in the regional soccer community, outclassing older opposition, and later catching the eye of the US youth program.
After a semester with the U-17 National Team, Agbossoumonde was invited to join the prestigious IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida. He emerged as a force at centerback, earning high praise for his soccer IQ and his ability to effectively use his already large frame.
“Gale quickly became the anchor as a U-16 for the U-18 US Development Academy League team here at IMG,” Dion Daniels, a director at the IMG Academies, told Goal.com in an e-mail. “Playing two years up was no problem for Gale. His sheer knowledge of the game and physical attributes made him the premier central back in the league.”
Agbossoumonde’s size immediately evokes comparisons to current USMNT center back Oguchi Onyewu. Just 17, the 6-2, 185 lbs. defender exhibits poise, maturity, and strength patrolling the back line. A forward earlier in his career, he maintains the ability to get into the attacking third, and can be particularly lethal on set pieces.
He joins the U-20 team as a replacement for Wake Forest’s All-American defender Ike Opara, who suffered an injury recently. Rongen recently told Goal.com that Agbossoumonde is a player “who can gain experience, help us out here, and become the backbone of the next team” (Agbossoumonde will still be age-eligible for the 2011 Under-20 World Cup). In other words, the trip to Trinidad and Tobago is part of the learning process for Agbossoumonde, the US squad's youngest player by a year. As evidenced by a red card in the Australian Youth Olympic Festival final against host Australia, he still has some growing up to do, but at 17, who doesn’t?
"His personality is addicting -- laughing and socializing with coaches and players,” Daniels explained, “but once that whistle blows and the game starts, it’s all business for him. He has a lot of growing to do as a young man but Gale plays at the professional level right now.”
These are welcome words of encouragement for the centerback, and exciting praise for any U.S. soccer fan to hear. It will be interesting to see how Agbossoumonde—recently linked to UCLA, although this remains unconfirmed—measures up to older competition in Trinidad & Tobago. If history is any indication, however, the defender should be just fine.
Warren Whitney is a regular contributor to Goal.com.