This is a piece by TSG writer Jason Price.
It’s September, and the season’s winding down, and while you’ve battled with injury and form, all in all it’s been a good year.
You’ve all but won a place in the starting XI in an exciting new franchise that’s all on the up-and-up, with a brand new stadium outside the world’s greatest city and god damn it man – you’re the guy wearing the number 10 shirt.
Not to mention the fact that your boyhood hero–Thierry Henry–has just happened to drop in after the World Cup to sign on to play alongside you. You find inspiration in your goal celebrations – you dance the stanky leg.
Not bad for a kid who was making something like football minimum wage in a soccer outback just a dozen months before. Not to mention the fact that your jaw-dropping performances against a pair of EPL giants only a few months ago got the rumor mill churning with images of you shooting through the penalty area to bury a cross past hapless English keeper Joe Hart.
The phone began to ring, and the idea of yourself in Europe seemed a lot less like a childhood fantasy, and more like the next logical step. And it wouldn’t matter much if it would be a dream deferred for the moment, because your squad wanted you for the future, needed you for the run to Toronto…
So just take it one day at a time.
You’re happy here, you’ve settled.
The future’s so bright and all of that stuff…
The only decision you have really is which country to represent in the next World Cup Cycle. But what a luxury to have, what a life… It’s all working out after all.
And then you get pulled aside before training
All you know now is that you’ve got to pack your bags, get out of that lease, tell your friends goodbye, thank that boyhood hero of yours… Your phone starts ringing, texts start flooding in. You’ve been traded to Denver. You didn’t see it coming. You don’t know why. You wonder what the winter’s like in the mountains.
Isn’t that the opposite way of Europe?
In all likelihood, the MLS Cup final will take place on Sunday in Toronto and there will be little mention of Macoumba Kandji, the lanky and crafty Senegalese forward the Rapids’s acquired in a late-season trade for the movious Mehdi Ballouchy.
If things go the Rapids’ way then Kandji stays comfortably numb in down apparel on the bench while he watches Omar Cummings and Conor Casey shoot through the Hoops’ backline. If things don’t, then look for him beside the fourth official in the 75th minute or so about to dart onto the frigid green pitch in search of some last minute magic to take the game into extra time.
It is a Cup final and so anyone can be a hero, and while Kandji’s an unlikely one, his story’s as good as any, if not better; especially a final bereft of any drama or storyline in which the coaches seem to be arguing only over who’s the underdog.
TSG was fortunate enough to catch Kandji on his way to the airport Thursday morning. Not only was the 6 ‘ 4” collosus generous with his time, he impressed TSG with his sheer graciousness and honesty – which we hope comes across in the transcription below. All in all, the conversation reminded us of how transient and insecure a career in professional football can be, a theme explored in Kyle Martino’s excellent article on this blog earlier in the week.
Mac Kandji strikes us as a good man. We especially thank him for choosing TSG as the venue for one important and much-anticipated “national” announcement which you can find below in our conversation with the soon-to-be international. And invite him to make a guest appearance for the famed San Francisco Black Sox anyday…
TSG: This was a big late season move both for the Rapids and the Red Bulls, and I’m sure for yourself. How can you compare the two teams and organizations?
MK: The Rapids were in good form when I was coming in… I was very pleased with the performance of the guys coming in here, seeing them working hard, day in and day out. They’re both very good teams, very good organizations. And I think they both had potential to make it to the MLS Cup, so I’m not surprised to be here with the Rapids. They’re both great teams. They both have hard workers, good coaches… I can’t really compare the front office so much. I don’t know them like I know the New York Red Bulls. But the teams, you know, I think they’re about even.
TSG: Was the trade a surprise for you? Or did you see it coming?
MK: It was the biggest, biggest surprise ever. I would never, you know, thought like… imagined New York would trade me… Or the way it happened, I never thought it would happen, so… It was a big surprise.
TSG: How did you feel about it at the time? You had seemed to be settling in really well in New York…
MK: I… To be honest with you, I still love the fans in NY and their support to me was so great, you know, I still love em. The support their was great. Also here the fans welcomed me very well. But, I guess I’m not a… I’m not a big Denver, Colorado guy yet. I mean the team is great, the guys are great, so I’m just trying to get used to the city. It’s not really my type of city, but I’m trying to get used to it so… we’ll see.
TSG: [Laughing] How do you mean, ‘It’s not really your type of city’?
MK: I mean it’s a bit slow for me. Maybe I don’t really know nobody here yet or whatever… But that’s just been the tough part for me with moving, changing from New York to Denver, Colorado.
TSG: I know that Paul Bravo [technical director of the Rapids] had mentioned that one of the reasons that they brought you in was because Omar would possibly be moving… So do you kind of see you’re future as connected to what happens with him?
MK: Conor and Omar have been fantastic in pairing up together. They’ve been playing together for a long time, so they know each other, they’re used to each other… I came here and paired with Conor, you know, a very good player… a great player. He’s very easy to play with, the same as Omar. I mean they have different features: Conor is the guy who holds the ball up, and Omar is the guy who runs behind. And I would say that my future holds if Omar goes or stays because I didn’t come over here to sit on the bench, you know, cause I was playing in New York since I’ve been in the MLS and I didn’t come here to sit on the bench. So we’ll see if Omar is going to go or stay. I think we can see… We’ll probably see what I’m going to do after we find out what’s going to happen next season, you know?
TSG: So much of this depends on these other situations. I mean first it was you and Juan Pablo, and then Henry comes in, and then he gets injured, and then Agudelo gets in form…
MK: Yeah when I was in New York, it was me and Juan Pablo and then Thierry Henry came, but he was injured so even if I was there I would still be playing.
But, and then the move happened, and a couple of the guys getting injured and Agudelo getting his chance – playing very well, taking advantage of it. So, basically, I think you know in a way it was just like… It just depends on what’s going to happen and what’s the coaches plans, especially when two guys are playing very well together like here in Colorado, it’s very hard for the coach to take ‘em out and try to put me in, so… I think it’s just going to be depending on how it is. Depending on who’s going to stay and who’s going to go, then depending on that, I’ll have to make my decision. You know, try to go somewhere that, you know, I’m going to play.
TSG: I mean you’re performances against Man City and Tottenham were really awe-inspiring and shortly after there were rumors of you going to Blackpool or Bolton or maybe Greece…
MK: Those types of teams are going to lift you’re game up because they’re going to bring the best out of you. So after those games there were a lot of European teams that were interested. But, New York, ah… that’s why I was shocked as well because they said that they’re not going to let me go anywhere til at least after the season because we’re trying to win a championship. And then, that’s when they traded me. I was really shocked cause there were those European teams that came in and tried to get me and New York said, “no”. But instead they traded me to Colorado.
TSG: Did you want to go to Europe at the time?
MK: Yeah, of course. Of course. You know… my dream as a kid is just playing in Europe you know? And I still have the dream and hopefully I will in… maybe next year or the year after that or we’ll see. But I really, yeah, I was definitely considering those offers in Europe.
TSG: Can you talk a little bit about where the offers were from?
MK: At that time, I was working with an agency in England who have those connections. There were a couple of teams in England – I’m not allowed to say those teams. And there was one team in Greece, and a couple of teams in France as well who was very interested and he was talking to them and the Greek one was more in form and they were trying their best to get me over there but it didn’t end up happening.
TSG: So the next few weeks, after this cup final this weekend, are going to be very important in determining your future.
MK: Yeah, yeah… It is going to be very important for me because I really want to talk to the coaches to discuss my future because, just like I said, I want to be somewhere where I’m playing and somewhere that I could come in and help the team right away. But right now the most important thing is just to focus on this MLS Cup and hopefully try to win it, you know? And I will be available from the bench and if the coach needs me, I’ll definitely come in and give them 110% and then, after that, we’ll talk and we’ll see what’s going to happen for next season.
TSG: What kind of player do you like to pair with? I mean, you’ve had the opportunity to pair with some really talented, but very different players now.
MK: You know… anybody you ask is going to tell you that playing with their idol growing up. You know, I grew up idolizing Thierry Henry, who is a fantastic player.
You know but I think all of them, all of them are very good in their different kind of ways. Because, Juan Pablo – you know, unbelievable player. I learn SO much from him before Thierry Henry got there. Coming over here… Casey – fantastic player. Omar – fantastic player.
So it doesn’t really matter who I’m paired with, but I enjoyed playing with Thierry Henry a lot because I was learning, you know, I was just starting to learn so many things from him and I was expecting to learn a lot for the rest of the year. But you know I’m just grateful to have this opportunity to play with these unbelievable players. I mean, when I was in New York, as you can see, I was getting better week-by-week because I was learning so much from Juan Pablo Angel, pairing with him up top was a very good thing for me and my career. And Thierry Henry coming in with everything he accomplished in his life, I was just you know I was trying to learn as much a possible.
TSG: As the next World Cup cycle starts, I know a lot of people have been making decisions regarding international affiliations, and I know that you’ve been on the fence regarding Senegal, the Gambia, and the US, and I was just wondering if you had made any headway in any of those directions…
MK: I’m probably going with the Gambian National Team. It’s not 100% sure but there’s a good chance I’m going to go with the Gambian National Team because I think that’s where I fit in more. And I think they can help me out in the future. And I think I could get a lot of playing time over there, as well. And I think I could go in and help them.
TSG: With Gambia? They’ve never qualified for an African Nations’ Cup. Is that correct?
MK: Yes, that’s correct. But I believe that this year we have have the team to qualify for African Nations’ Cup. It’s already begun, they’ve played a couple of games so now it’s just a matter of time of me going there and trying to you know add something to the guys… what they’ve already brought. And I think they’re in the right position of qualifying because they’re in a group of three and they won 1 and lost 1, so I believe if we win 1 more game we should be in already.
TSG: Does that mean that you’ll be making that final decision pretty soon, and maybe joining them pretty shortly?
MK: Yeah. I mean probably right after the playoffs, I’ll probably just make my final decision. But I’m pretty sure I will go with the Gambian National Team.
TSG: And can you just explain the difference for you between going with Gambia or Senegal both football-wise and even culturally…
MK: Yes, it is different. Senegal you know – unbelievable talent in there. They have a lot of talented guys. Gambia is smaller, so it’s harder to find you know as much guys as Senegal. But, I was born in Senegal and raised in Gambia. I spent my whole life in Gambia. My grandma is from Gambia. But my dad played for the Senegal National Team, but he’s been very helpful. He would just tell me, ‘you know just make the right decision’. I mean obviously probably inside his heart he wants me to play for Senegal, but at the end of the day it’s my decision where I want to play.
TSG: There seems to be a relatively big MLS presence among Gambian National Team players…
MK: Yes, yes… It seems so. You know I think that it was making it easier on me cause I’ve got some guys here who I talk to every time like Kenny Mansally. He’s always telling me to come play for Gambia you know “it’s gonna be good in the future” and this and that and then Bouna on the other hand is telling me the same thing about Senegal. But Bouna was very helpful, he would just tell me that “I would love for you to play for Senegal, but just choose wherever is best for you.”
TSG: Have you played a competitive football match in West Africa in the past, or will this be your first?
MK: No, no, never… [laughing] I’ve never played any club soccer, any high school team… just street soccer with my friends. But it will be very nice to go back and see all my friends and family over there while representing the country and just to hope that I can do very good by them.
TSG: In terms of the MLS Cup, how do you see it shaking out in terms of what Colorado will have to do to be successful?
MK: Dallas has been fantastic. Fantastic. But I think we just go in there and play our game. I think we can definitely match ‘em up so… we’re gonna see. It’s going to be a very tough game I can see it now. I mean we went to Dallas and we tied them 2-2 over there, and all these games we’ve been playing,we pressure all over the field and just take our chances in counterattack… I think attacking, we’re going to go all out and probably pressure them all over the field.