DAVENPORT, Fla. – Raw talent will always get you noticed, but sustained success requires more than on-the-pitch exploits.
And when it comes to talent, there’s no denying that Anatole Abang has plenty to spare. With a big, physical frame, a deft touch, and a nose for goal, there’s reason to believe that the forward could very easily have a successful career in Major League Soccer.
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Now in his second season with the Red Bulls, Abang is looking to build on what was a successful rookie campaign. While playing time not always guaranteed—displacing Bradley Wright-Phillips up top is no easy task—the Cameroonian made his impact felt, particularly off the bench. While starting just five matches, Abang still pitched in with six goals on the year.
“We’re all really pleased with the year he had last year,” head coach Jesse Marsch said. “He’s always a physical presence up there. Now we’re just continuing to try to create clarity for him in terms of what the role is and how to commit to it using his strengths.”
But the road to a successful sophomore season hit a snag early on in preseason. An injury forced Abang to the sidelines as he once again waited for his chance to contribute to the attack.
In his return to the pitch, Abang showcased just what the Red Bulls were missing, promptly scoring twice in his second half appearance of a friendly match against the University of Central Florida.
“It’s good to have him healthy again,” Sacha Kljestan said. “I think he’s been itching to get going again. I know he was disappointed to have a hamstring issue. So to have him show his ability and put goals in, it’s the most important thing for a forward. He has to be happy with that and we’re happy for him.”
The Red Bulls would certainly be pleased if he continued his penchant for finding the back of the net, but in Abang’s case, there’s more to it than that.
As a relatively new resident to the country, the 19-year-old has had to adapt to far more than just New York’s tactics on the field. A new home, a new culture, a new language, a new life; they all make his situation far more complicated than others within the squad.
“So much with Abang is trying to sort out his lifestyle off the field,” Marsch told NewYorkRedBulls.com “He’s still a young player from Africa and this is a big lifestyle adjustment for him. It’s our responsibility as a club to make sure that we take care of him and help him mature and grow.”
It would be fair to say that Abang is somewhat of a project, but it’s plain to see just what he can bring to the table should he put it all together. It’s one of the motivating factors that serves as a constant reminder of what he and the team are working towards, something greater. And if early returns are any indication, the best is yet to come.
“He’s played well so far,” Marsch added. “Now it’s about trying to help his maturity off the field, because we know if we can get that right, he has so many great qualities off the field that will add up.”