Postcard from Europe: Agbossoumonde's unfinished business
AMSTERDAM — There's something that's been eating at Djurgårdens IF defender Gale Agbossoumonde, and it's not about a fight for playing time or his up-in-the-air club status. It's about that one damned night in Guatemala.
Sure, the 19-year-old is trying to regain his Blue Stripes place before the end of the month, when he finds out whether the 11-time Swedish champs will take up the purchase option on his expiring six-month loan. There is that, but Agbossoumonde is taking it all in stride.
But that 2-1 loss to hosts Guatemala on April 6? That still gives him pause.
The US U-20s were stunned in the CONCACAF Championship quarterfinals, snapping a run of seven straight World Cup qualifications at that age level.
"It was really hard not qualifying," Agbossoumonde told MLSsoccer.com over the phone this week from Stockholm. "We felt like we let our coach, Thomas Rongen, down."
Agbossoumonde says several members from that U-20 squad have vowed to make amends at the 2012 Olympics, a tourney of special significance to a Togo native whose family fled to Syracuse, N.Y., from Benin when he was eight years old.
"We never want to see that again," insisted Agbossoumonde. "I talk to my teammates and some of them are still taking it hard. I think about it still, especially when the Under-17s were at World Cup and watching the Women's World Cup now.
"I want to represent my country. It's what I want next for my career; finding a team and then making the Olympic team. I'm just working hard so I can put myself in that position. It's always been a dream of mine to play at the Olympics."
Of course, finding a permanent address in club ball comes first in that equation. The kid older teammates call "Boss" isn't sure he'll be with Djurgårdens come Aug. 2.
"It's like a 50-50," he estimated after a contemplative pause. "It depends what the deal is and I'm not even sure if they want to keep me here because I haven't played the last few games. I'm not really sure what's going to happen yet. I'm open to anything right now. I just want to have a team and get games."
Before joining DIF, he had warmed up briefly with NASL side Miami FC before consecutive confusing loan spells in Portugal with first-flight headliners Braga and mites Estoril.
The former looked ready to take their buy option when a knee injury shelved Agbossoumonde and, apparently, the deal. At Estoril, a registration clause meant he wasn't allowed to play in any matches during his short stay.
This winter, Agbossoumonde impressed DIF manager Magnus Pehrsson on trial. Shortly after signing, the center back made his debut in round three of the Allsvenskan season, performing admirably in a 1-0 loss to defending champions Malmö FF.
He started seven of eight games and, apart from a couple of rookie flubs, did fairly well. There was just one big problem: The team wasn't winning. Djurgårdens opened with a draw and then lost five straight to scrape bottom.
After going the distance in a May 29 Svenska Cup ouster at IFK Göteborg, Agbossoumonde committed a team infraction and was told he'd sit a couple of games as punishment. Two weeks after that cup loss, Djurgårdens romped 4-0 in an away rematch to start a four-game winning streak.
"I'd had a couple of bad games and then we went on break for a week, so I went home," Boss explained. "When I got back, I was really jet-lagged and I was a couple minutes late for practice."
"It was the day before a game when I was late and Magnus wasn't happy, so he felt he had to set an example. He took me out of the starting lineup and we won, so he didn't want to change things. Then, we won again. And again."
Agbossoumonde's inability to break back into the winning lineup has prompted a few Swedish tabloid stories claiming dissatisfaction with his presence, but the real boss at Stockholms Stadion put that gossip to rest.
"He has matured a lot, both as a player and as a person," Pehrsson told MLSsoccer.com. "I'm very happy he's doing a good job."
While the manager would not reveal any hints as to what he will decide when Agbossoumonde's buy option answer comes due in August, he clearly finds the teenager to be adept at learning his lessons.
"He has developed the whole time, I think," said Pehrsson. "We've focused on his primary skills — he's aggressive, he's good with the ball and he's good in the air. We've also focused on his weaknesses to assist him with being more alert and to be better in his positional game."
Given far less tactical freedom than in Portugal, Boss concurs, saying he feels like he's been a good pupil to a good teacher.
"With Magnus, it's strict," he explained. "He tells me exactly what he wants me to do, it's simple. You know what to do. I definitely see myself progressing. It's been a step in the right direction for me."
If his dedication to learning lessons and the sensations of slow heartburn from that night in Guatemala are any indication, Olympic forwards can now consider themselves warned. The Boss is headed your way.