By NICHOLAS MURRAY – firstname.lastname@example.org
Sunday, January 10, 2016
MIAMI – Sitting on a sunny afternoon at the U.S. U20 Men’s National Team’s hotel, Seattle Sounders FC forward Victor Mansaray was enjoying the start of 2016.
“It’s a privilege to be here,” Mansaray said. “Knowing that you have the World Cup next year, for you to put on this crest, representing this country, it’s an honor. Anytime you get the chance to come out here and play for the national team, you come and give your all.”
The U20 camp being held this week in Miami is the starting point of what could be a very big 18 months for the 18-year-old Homegrown player. After making 16 appearances for Seattle Sounders FC 2 in the USL last season, his first as a professional, Mansaray is aiming to make a bigger impact on the field for S2, and stake a claim for a place in the U20 squad that will compete for a place at the FIFA U20 World Cup next year.
“Me playing in the USL, I think it’s going to help me get better as an individual and as a player,” Mansaray said. “The USL was a good start for me last season to get my games in and get ready for whenever my number is called for the first team.”
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Given the depth chart the Sounders boast in their forward ranks, led by the likes of Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins, Mansaray’s playing time with the Sounders in MLS this year will likely be limited, but his eagerness to learn from some of the top players in MLS has been evident, according to S2 Coach Ezra Hendrickson.
“Those guys are so good that he can’t help but learn from them,” Hendrickson said. “I think Victor is willing to learn. He knows it’s going to take games with S2 to get to the first-team minutes, and I think he’s willing to do that.
“We have enough people in our organization to nurture him. We understand he’s a young talent, but because what’s ahead of him is so good, and has been so good for so long, it’s going to be a process where we’re going to have to be patient with him, and he’s going to have to be patient. He knows it’s not going to happen for him right away because of what’s ahead of him, but that should be motivation for him, to fill those shoes because those are big shoes to fill in a year or two, or whenever that is.”
Mansaray is definitely motivated to be more productive for an S2 side that reached the USL Playoffs in its inaugural season. After a strong start to the season, the side went through a late-season dip in form that saw S2 almost drop out of the playoff positions, but Mansaray thinks the club’s win in its final game of the regular season to clinch a playoff berth provided a boost in intensity in the squad that will carry into 2016.
“For the majority of the season we were flying pretty high, winning games. We were feeling pretty good about ourselves. Then toward the end of the season, I don’t know what happened,” he said. “You just have those types of days in football, and then we had a struggle toward the end of the season, but we were able to fight back in the final game of the season, punch our way into the playoffs, so through that we’re going to try and build our intensity from last year and do good stuff this season.”
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Mansaray is also looking forward to another season with Hendrickson as his head coach for S2, as the former player and Sounders assistant provides valuable leadership for a squad that projects to be a little bit younger as it enters its second season.
“Ezra is a great guy, and an even better coach,” Mansaray said. “He helps you out every day before you step out on the field, he tells you the little things he wants you to do when you step out there, and if you’re not doing it, he’s going to tell you, straight up. He’ll help you as a young player, 100 percent, but if you’re out there, out of control or out of place or out of topic, he’ll let you know.”
For his part, Hendrickson’s expectations for Mansaray as he starts his second professional season are definitely high.“He had a year to get seasoned in, get some games in, but now I think this is a year we’re expecting a breakout year for him,” Hendrickson said. “He’s a very talented player. He’s getting some time now with the Under 20s, so we’re expecting his play on the field to improve, because we see that type of potential in him.”