Remember 20-year-old Cameroonian defender Olivier Mbaizo?
The defender who is under contract with Bethlehem Steel FC has returned to training this week after a several weeks of no comment from team officials about his status. His return has been with the first team, however, and not the Steel.
“He’s had injuries that he’s dealt with,” head coach Jim Curtin said during his weekly press conference on Wednesday. “He is back training fully now. He has the quality to train with our first team so he’s training with the first team now. Today was his first day fully back with the group. He has a smile on his face and is happy to be back.”
Curtin said he expects to see Mbaizo getting minutes soon. With him unavailable, his fellow countryman Eric Ayuk has been playing right back with the Steel.
Steel FC head coach Brendan Burke said Wednesday that while there was interest in evaluating Ayuk at the position his playing right back has been mostly out of necessity. On Sunday against the Charleston Battery, the Steel were missing center back Brandon Aubrey to red card suspension and academy center back Ben Ofeimu was also unavailable because of an ankle injury so Matt Mahoney, a natural right back, shifted to center back.
Injuries have depleted the defense for both teams. Steel midfielder Drew Skundrich, who has experience playing right back, has been slowed by injury but will be available this weekend while from the first team Josh Yaro has returned to full training this week after an injury and Richie Marquez and Fabinho are, according to Curtin, a week and a half away from returning following surgery for separate injuries.
Mbaizo was the lone player on a USL contract to be invited to preseason camp with the first team. He delivered a couple of assists in a 5-1 preseason win over the University of South Florida and also played in preseason matches against the New York Red Bulls, Chicago Fire and Orlando City SC. He left the Orlando City match with a knee injury (this is the same match Ilsinho pulled a hamstring and Fafa Picault used abusive language that later earned him a three-game suspension).
Should the Union look to sign Mbaizo to the first team, they have room on the roster to do so. Two senior roster spots and one supplemental roster spot are currently available along with one international spot.