The New York Red Bulls have done a great job of not rushing the growth of 19-year-old Anatole Abang, and they likely will be rewarded for their efforts.
Some players just aren’t born with a knack for finding the net. They can try for years to hone their scoring abilities, but sometimes you just don’t have that gift. Anatole Abang is not one of those people. 2015 was his first year in America after being acquired from Rainbow Bamenda, a club in his native Cameroon.
The lean, 6’1” forward made his debut in March for the senior squad, as a second half sub for NYRB. He was granted the opportunity for more playing time on loan with the newly formed New York Red Bulls II of the USL. He scored the club’s first ever goal in his first appearance, his first of six goals in the USL last season. Abang would open his MLS scoring account in June against the Houston Dynamo.
He currently has six MLS goals in less than 1000 minutes of action, added to 7 career USL goals in 10 matches. His efficiency for NYRB II this year is elite. He has played in four matches, and scored three goals on only ten shots. This balancing act between USL and MLS allows Abang to get relatively steady minutes, and not have to deal with the rigors of a full MLS campaign on his slight, 160 lbs. frame just yet.
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Another great chance for Anatole to grow, as a person and a player, was his time with the Cameroonian senior squad national team. He was called up for the first time by The Indomitable Lions for a pair of qualifiers in March for the Africa Cup of Nations. Not expected to receive a ton of time, if any at all, Abang was a sub in the first match, and earned a start in the second.
Even if he hadn’t received a second of pitch time, the time around the senior squad and that experience would have been indescribably valuable. As more call ups follow, it will only continue to mature Abang, on and off the pitch.
In the current landscape of sports, it’s a must to try to capitalize on anything your young talent can provide, as soon as possible. In the NFL, highly drafted quarterbacks no longer sit for a year or two behind a veteran, they must play immediately, fully ready or not. One of the last to get a good chunk of time learning and observing a veteran?
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A pretty adequate pro by the name of Aaron Rodgers. Anatole Abang is obviously ready to be competitive in the MLS, but the Red Bulls are allowing him time to continue to sharpen his skills and physically develop as a late sub for the first team or starting in the USL for NYRB 2. Having Bradley Wright Phillips, a proven scorer in the league, makes the decision to bring Abang along at a more thoughtful pace easier.
The team success of NYRB also allows the club some leniency from the fans as to why the young, exciting Abang isn’t getting much time. Allegedly, European clubs have taken a liking to the young forward. That may complicate the situation a bit, making the Red Bulls decide to transfer him and cash in, or keep their prodigy. If he stays put, whenever the 31-year-old BWP begins to drop in form, that is when Anatole Abang will establish himself as a star in the league, and he will be ready.