In September 2015, Jordy Delem, then a young midfielder for French club AC Arles-Avignon, remembers being amazed by a 16-year-old forward from Monaco’s B squad. The kid put up four of the club’s five goals – leaving Delem and his teammates speechless.
“When I saw him, I was like, ‘We have to remember this guy,'” Delem says with a smile.
- GALLERY: Sounders in Russia
Three years later, the whole world is watching him. Kylian Mbappé, still just 19 years old, has been one of the shining stars of the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia. Now with PSG in his hometown of Paris, Mbappé and the French national team are set play in the World Cup final on Sunday against Croatia.
This connection is special for Delem, a native of Martinique – an overseas region of France. Despite being from a Caribbean island, Delem’s passport lists him as a French international.
It also gave Delem a chance to play in tournaments in France as a teen, which is where he faced a dynamic central midfielder by the name of Paul Pogba. Now one of the most famous soccer players in the world, Pogba bosses the midfield for Manchester United and the French national team.
“He was really, really good; he killed our team,” Delem reflects on facing Pogba when they were both 14 years old. “He scored and got an assist.”
Over 5,000 miles away, Delem and the Sounders face Atlanta United on Sunday afternoon, with the MLS match happening moments after the World Cup’s final whistle on FOX. It’s fun to think that Delem, who has 23 league appearances since 2017, once shared the pitch with a pair of Frenchmen who have reached the sport’s biggest stage.
“It’s nice," Delem says. “To play against them and now to watch them on TV, it’s very good.”