Ninety minutes in a reserve league game have prepared Bakary Soumare for a possible debut for the Philadelphia Union. The 6-foot, 4-inch tall central defender has waited a few months to make his first appearance for the Union.
"I've never had to wait so long," Soumare told reporters at a press conference, which included interim head coach John Hackworth, today.
Fans have also waited a long time for Soumare's first time entering the starting 11. Once he does, he will most likely replace Amobi Okugo in the starting line up at center back - though not this weekend, as captain Carlos Valdes may miss the game because of international duty and travel with Colombia.
Valdes’ possible departure prior to the game, to join up with his national team, may cause some problems for the Union, who already lack a comfortable amount of depth at the center back position. While Valdes and Okugo, who has performed well even though he’s naturally a central midfielder, the options behind them, Porfirio Lopez and Chris Albright, have not proven themselves able back ups.
A healthy, in-form Soumare would enable the Union to, among other things, have at worst a stop gap between the starting center backs and their questionable replacements.
Soumare will, no matter what, immediately bring some height to the Union defense and pose a problem for his former team, the Chicago Fire.
When asked about the possibility of playing against his first ever professional team, Soumare said that "it didn't matter."
Despite his words to reporters, Soumare's history with the Fire and their supporters make it appear to be a possibly emotional day for the defender. It most certainly will be an emotional day for any Chicago fans that travel to PPL Park on Saturday.
The Fire gave Soumare his first shot, making his potential for a debut against them somewhat fitting, especially considering the former Boulogne player's beloved nature among Chicago's fans.
"Off the field, Bakary is a charismatic man who acts like he's just one of the guys," Nick Fedora, of Hot Time in Old Town, SB Nation's Fire site, said to the Brotherly Game. "My Hot Time In Old Town colleague Rudy Gomez told me he would come out to Section 8 Chicago pick up games, bang the drum and cheer for his fans."
The Mali international went out of his way to accommodate the fans into his way of life, drawing parallels between himself and former Union captain Danny Califf, who was also a fan favorite for similar off the field reasons.
"A group of fans would regularly call Baky when going out and invite him along and he would join when he had the chance," Fedora said. "After his transfer to Boulogne was finalized, he went to the tailgate before the next Fire game to say goodbye to everyone. He is approachable and friendly and will instantly become a fan favorite."
Soumare's introduction into the Union's starting lineup has the ability to drastically change the outlook of both Philadelphia's on field tactics and the season itself.
The one caveat will be whether or not he is healthy. If Soumare fully recovered from a knee injury, then Philadelphia will have acquired a potential Defender of the Year for an undisclosed amount of allocation money, and a swap in allocation order.
The Brotherly Game will approach the on the field affects of Soumare in a future article.