CHESTER, Pa. – His Philadelphia Union debut may not have gone exactly as planned, but for center back Bakary Soumaré (above right), just playing in his first MLS game in three years was the most important thing.
Now the next step is reemerging as the dominant player that put him on the MLS Bext XI team in 2008 and the MLS All-Star team in 2009.
“It was good being out there playing 90 minutes,” said Soumaré, shortly after the Union dropped a 3-1 decision to the Chicago Fire on Sunday. “I was a little rusty, obviously, but I’m glad I got to play.”
Despite being signed by Philly on June 26 after spending three years overseas, Soumaré was held out of game action for a month-and-a-half as he recovered from knee surgery. But he played 90 minutes in last weekend’s Reserve League match, and was deemed healthy enough to get the start at center back Sunday in place of captain Carlos Valdés, who was off with the Colombian national team.
“My knees have no pain, so I’m very happy about that,” Soumaré said. “Fitness-wise, it was OK. I was cramping at the end but, for the most part, it was pretty good.”
HIGHLIGHTS: PHI 1, CHI 3
The fact that the Union struggled to contain Chicago’s attack, giving up three goals and even more good scoring opportunities, partially soured the center back’s debut. But even though a revamped backline that also featured rookie fullback Raymon Gaddis instead of Gabriel Farfan (who was pushed into the midfield) was back on its heels at times, Soumaré did some good clean-up work to clear away a few balls in the box.
“I was really proud of Baky because that’s the first time he’s played in a long time,” Union interim manger John Hackworth said. “There is no substitution for getting game rhythm. I haven’t talked to him yet but he’s a good enough pro that he knows he can improve. And he will, I’m absolutely certain of that.”
Soumaré admitted he wasn’t too happy with his performance and said that the defense didn’t “execute the way we should have.” Amobi Okugo, his partner at center back, believed it was a fine debut however with all things considered.
“I thought he did really well coming in, especially off of a knee injury,” Okugo said. “People come back for their first game and they’re usually kind of nervous, but he wasn’t nervous at all. You could see that with his aggressiveness. I thought he meshed well.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.