In the second minute of the Union's match on Saturday, Sebastien Le Toux found himself on the left touchline with the ball at his feet. He dribbled into the final third, before cutting inside and finding Eric Ayuk on the right corner of the 18-yard box. The Cameroonian winger was one-on-one with Jeb Brovsky from about 14 yards out. Instead of waiting for help to arrive, Ayuk gave Brovsky a little shimmy before firing a shot into the side netting. He had a horrible angle, and even if he had put the shot on target, Josh Saunders would have had it covered. The pragmatic move would have been to slide the ball over to a streaking Le Toux, but Ayuk didn't make the pragmatic move--he went for it.
Eric Ayuk didn't do this because he's unintelligent; he did it because he's bold. In their history, the Union have had a mighty shortage of bold players.
In the early days, Sebastien Le Toux was the club's talisman, racking up 25 goals and 20 assists in the Union's first two seasons. He had the magic touch back then, finding the net or helping his teammates do so in innumerable ways. This goal, which is still one of my favorites, is Le Toux at his best. He initiates a couple of one-twos before ripping a shot that meeker strikers wouldn't dare take.
Under Peter Nowak, Roger Torres was given license to experiment. The Colombian midfielder quickly became a fan favorite because of his size and skill. In his first two seasons, Torres captured the imaginations of Union supporters. There was a real belief that he could break open the game at any moment, and fans waited eagerly for the ball to find his feet.
Though his personality didn't attract fans and eventually repelled coaches, Freddy Adu possessed a technical ability unmatched by any of his teammates in Philadelphia. Had he been on a team better than the Union's atrocious 2012 squad, perhaps he'd be remembered more fondly. The former starlet's would-be-assists were often butchered by such scrubs as Lionard Pajoy, Josue Martinez, and Keon Daniel. On his best day, Adu was near dominant, but his personality made sure he was never as beloved as Torres and Le Toux.
With Torres and Adu gone, and Le Toux on the decline, it's Eric Ayuk's turn to captivate PPL Park.
Ayuk brings a willingness to take on defenders one-on-one, which is not a tendency many previous Union wingers can claim. If he can't break down his opposite number in skill, the 5'7", 150-pound winger will be sure to scrap his way in behind the defense. As his reputation grows, teams will have to respect him more, opening up space for players like Fernando Aristegueita and Cristian Maidana. On defense, Ayuk defends competently, exhibiting the same ferocity he displays with the ball at his feet.
Despite his technical prowess, Ayuk's skill is not what makes him exciting, but rather, it's his attitude, effort, and creativity that entertains. Though he's an 18-year-old in his first season with a new club, in a new league, he plays with a confidence that only few veterans possess. In Kansas City, Ayuk embarrassed left back Marcel de Jong so thoroughly that the Canadian international was taken off at halftime. Last weekend, Ayuk similarly beat up on Jeb Brovsky, simply knocking the ball past him and beating him to it on a number of occasions.
Whether he's cheesing after a big win, or popping off some absurd gymnastics routine after an ugly goal that wasn't even his, it's easy to tell that the Cameroonian winger is enjoying himself. His coaches and teammates are happy to have him around.
Curtin on young Ayuk: "He gets treated like the little brother by everyone. He puts a smile on everyone's face."— Philadelphia Union (@PhilaUnion) April 14, 2015
A player's entertainment value can be derived from a number of elements. Flair and flashiness are important, as is pure skill. Confidence and boldness also make a player stand out. But a player can only be fun if he is having fun. That is why Le Toux's name and number were on the back of every jersey in 2010 and 2011, and that is why The River End called for Roger Torres in 2012 and 2013. That is why Freddy Adu never made it in Philadelphia, and that is why Eric Ayuk will be the Union's next big hit.