BRIAN SCIARETTA - Wednesday, March 17, 2010
While being one the most highly touted American teenage prospects, Gale Abossoumonde is continuing to improve rapidly at Portuguese club Sporting Braga.
Agbossoumonde, 18, has been training with Sporting Braga since December 28th of last year. He formally joined the club on a six month loan during the first week of January at the beginning of the winter transfer window.
Braga currently sits in second place in the Portuguese Liga standings and trail leaders, Benfica, by only three points. Braga's defense has been terrific this whole season as the team has only allowed 14 goals through 23 games.
"I like it here," Agbossoumonde told YA. "The coaches and players are really nice. The training style is very different here. It took me a little bit of time to get used to."
Since joining Braga in January, Agbossoumonde has been earning positive reviews from the media for his time with the reserve team. He has been a regular at central defense there and has continued to impress the club's coaching staff.
Shortly after a reserve match against Varzim SC where Agbossoumonde scored his first Braga goal, he was pulled aside by the first team head coach Domingos Paciencia and was told that he was going to travel with the first team for their league match against Vitoria Setubal.
"I didn't know I was going to be in the final 18 and I didn't find out until we left for the game," Agbossoumonde recalled of how he learned about making the first team. "I had been playing regularly for the second team but I had been training with the first team. The day before the first team was leaving for their game I finished the practice and the first team coach stopped me and told me I was coming with them for their next game. I was surprised and very happy."
While Agbossoumonde did not play in the game against Vitoria Setubal which ended 0-0, making the gameday 18 served as a clear indication that he is on the right track at Braga and is continuing to improve. Now in his third month with the club, Agbossoumonde has said that improving his focus has been the biggest specific improvement for him.
"Being able to stay focused a whole game has been my biggest improvement," Agbossoumonde described. "I had problems focusing and playing well for a whole match. I would have ups and downs during the course of games. But at Braga I really think I have become more consistent. Braga has one of the best defenses in all of Europe. Just training with those guys and watching them and how they play. I am learning a lot from them. I am also improving a little bit on the technical side as well."
While Agbossoumonde is currently in the first team picture with Braga, he is also surely a key figure for the US U20 team this cycle as they build towards the 2011 World Cup in Colombia next year.
Earlier this month he was invited by US U20 head coach Thomas Rongen to play with the U20 team in the prestigious Dallas Cup.
However, with him being on the verge of the first team, Braga's coaches convinced him to stay in Portugal with the club instead of traveling to Texas with the US U20 team.
"I was originally invited to the Dallas Cup but the coaching staff here [at Braga] thought it would be best to stay with the club," Agbossoumonde admitted. "I wanted to go to Dallas too."
Agbosoumonde was born in Togo and fled to Benin when he was a child after a civil war broke out. Soon thereafter, he moved to Syracuse, New York with his mother and siblings. Since coming to the US, Agbossoumonde has been a regular with the US youth teams.
Last year, Agbossoumonde played on the US U20 team that competed at the 2009 U20 World Cup in Egypt. While that team finished third in their group and failed to advance to the knockout stages, Agbossouomonde feels as if his experience with the U20 team has been very positive and he looks forward to being able to participate again in the 2011 cycle.
"I like playing for Thomas [Rongen] a lot," Agbossoumonde said of playing under Rongen. "He has helped me a lot over the last year or two that I have been playing with the U20s. I felt I was below average when I was with the U17s and then Coach Rongen took me in and improved me a lot."
While Agbossoumonde will not be joining the US team in Dallas, he will instead remain in Portugal and hopefully be able to make contributions for Braga as they strive to win the Portuguese Liga title. Helping the club to a championship is something in which Agbossouomonde very much wants to take part even if his role is small.
"It would be great. It would be a dream really," Agbossoumonde described. "Just even making the bench for Braga would make a league title incredible."
As far as his hopes beyond this season, Agbossoumonde said that he would love to stay at Braga after this season. As part of the loan agreement, Braga currently own an option to buy his contract from Traffic Sports, the Brazilian based sports management company that own Agbossoumonde's rights after he signed with them last summer.
"Yeah, I would like to stay [at Braga]. It's my eventual goal to play in England someday," Agbossoumonde concluded. "But this is a good starting point for me."