In the 76th minute of the Sounders FC’s friendly with Manchester United last week, three players subbed into the match for Seattle.
Miguel Montano came on late in the match, a great opportunity for the 20-year-old Colombian to play against one of the top clubs in the world.
O’Brian White made his first appearance since a blood clot was removed from his leg in April.
However, the third player may have been just as intriguing. Mrisho Ngassa came on and played the right wing, though his appearance was largely lost in the shuffle of a 7-0 loss taken by the Sounders.
Ngassa came to the Sounders on trial from Azam FC in his native Tanzania as the Sounders looked to expand the breadth of their scouting into the often unscoured countries in East Africa.
His appearance last week was a full year in the making, as the Sounders began discussing a relationship with Tanzania during last season. Kurt Schmid traveled to Tanzania last year to scout the National Team and watch them train. With his eye and the recommendation of National Team head coach Jan Poulsen, Ngassa was selected to trial with the Sounders.
“When you go to a place like Tanzania and see someone who stands out head and shoulders above the rest, you try and figure out why,” Schmid said.
That answer for Ngassa was quickness.
While he stands just 5-foot-5, he is able to use his speed and stealth to get in behind defenses and create opportunities. Even against Manchester United he was able to get a shot away in his limited action, missing high late in the match with Rio Ferdinand in close proximity.
“Ngassa is not the biggest guy, but we have experience with small guys doing good things in Seattle, so that didn’t really deter us. He’s incredibly quick. I think his quickness over small distances is phenomenal,” Schmid said. “Technically, he’s actually pretty good. He can dribble and shoot well. He reads the game well too. I think he needs to improve his defense a little bit, but he’s an attacking player and his awareness and technical ability in those arenas is very good.”
While the link to Tanzania could bear fruit for the Sounders at some point, the benefit won’t only come for the Seattle club. According to African Lyon owner and general manager Rahim Zamunda Kangezi, who accompanied Ngassa on the trip, opportunities with Seattle and other MLS clubs will only raise the profile of soccer in Tanzania and other East African countries the way France did for countries in West Africa.
“The talent is the same as West Africa, but in West Africa they have a connection with France. The Sounders are giving players in East Africa the opportunity to connect East Africa with the Sounders the same way,” Kangezi said. “When you talk about football in Africa, that is the dream of every young player. To see young players in the US would be great for the region.”
The Sounders agree that strengthening the bond between the club and representatives from Tanzania will only help the club build more relationships and could eventually bring the club some great talent from a region that the MLS hasn’t made much use of yet.
“It’s very untapped. There are guys coming out of the region in Belgium and Norway that have made their forays into different parts of the world,” Schmid said. “I think the region has potential and there are definitely players there, it just needs to be developed. With this relationship hopefully we can help develop those players.”
Ngassa is scheduled to return to Tanzania today with the potential that he could rejoin the Sounders in training camp for the 2012 season.