The recent trend of signing young players from the continent of Africa continued with the Bethlehem Steel FC player signing announced on Wednesday.
Michee Ngalina, an 18-year-old from the Democratic Republic of Congo, joins Steel FC left back Prosper Chiluya, a 20-year-old from Zambia, and 20-year-old Cameroonian defender Olivier Mbaizo in the Philadelphia Union organization. Mbaizo was originally signed to a USL deal but joined the first team roster last week.
Ngalina has been on trial the past couple weeks with the Steel. While right-footed, head coach Brendan Burke said he can play on both wings.
“He has very good foot speed but more importantly is smooth on the ball. He’s a good passer and pretty good decision maker,” Burke said during a call with reporters on Wednesday. “Obviously, there is going to be a learning curve but he brings a lot to the position.”
The Kinshasa native, who represented the DRC at the U17 level in the 2016 Central African Football Federations’ Union, came to the U.S. initially to play soccer and attend school at Montverde Academy in Orlando, Florida.
“I feel so happy to sign with Bethlehem Steel FC because it makes a dream of mine a reality,” Ngalina said in a news release. “Ever since I was 10 years old, my dream has (been) to become a professional soccer player and to make it happen now is just special.”
He’ll have his work cut out for him as winger is currently not a position of need for the Steel or the first team.
Chris Nanco and Santi Moar are both wingers on USL deals and Marcus Epps, Eric Ayuk and Fabian Herbers have all spent time at the position on loan from the first team. The organization now has nine players available to play on the wings. Fafa Picault, Marcus Epps and Cory Burke have played both winger positions and CJ Sapong will sometimes shift out wide late in the game.
Brendan Burke also has talented wingers from the academy available for Steel matches in Tonny Temple on the right and Issa Rayyan on the left.
“I think we have a very good and talented young core of wingers but nobody has really separated from the pack so we want to continue to challenge that group and challenge the group in the first team with quality,” Burke said. “I think we got some high-end quality in Michee, just a matter of how long it’s going to take for that to show in games but we’ll throw him into the mix pretty quick.”
Ngalina turned 18 earlier this month, making him the youngest professional in the organization. His signing brings the Steel roster to 13, one above the league minimum. They now have four of seven available international spots filled.
The first team still has one senior roster spot and one supplemental spot open. Goalkeeper Jake McGuire is listed as on loan to USL and does not currently count against the team’s 30-man active roster. All seven first team international spots are filled (the eighth was sold to New York City FC).