COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – It happened. The real, living, breathing Charles Eloundou, a mystery in Colorado soccer circles for nearly a year, finally made his MLS debut on Saturday afternoon.
And if his performance in the Colorado Rapids’ 2-1 win over the Vancouver Whitecaps was anything to go off, the 19-year-old could be a big contributor for his new club in the very near future.
Eloundou showed pace and a surprising tilt of confidence, giving credence Colorado's extended battle for his rights. On José Mari’s 79th-minute golazo, it was Eloundou who speedily tracked down a long ball and made the initial pass to set up his teammate’s heroics.
“[Vancouver had] a backline that I felt we could expose with pace. And with Charles available to us, in that particular game I thought was important to get him on there, and I think he really changed the game a little bit and found some space,” Rapids head coach Pablo Mastroeni said this week. “I think Charles did a good job coming in and impacting that game.”
After the Rapids announced early last year that they’d won the rights to Eloundou in a special lottery, the Cameroonian never showed up, caught in the middle of a tug-of-war between his old Cameroonian club AS Fortuna and MLS. But finally, after months of appeals, paperwork and even an intervention from FIFA, the Rapids and MLS were able to successfully wrestle Eloundou onto American soil. He joined the club for preseason this year (he also participated in some practices late last year, as well, although he wasn’t eligible to play).
In preseason action, Eloundou made a strong play for a regular spot in the starting 11 by flashing the pace that drew the Rapids to him in the first place. While it took him a few weeks to get his first crack on the field, he made the most of it, at least in the eyes of the decision-maker.
“He has ‘it.’ He’s a good player,” Mastroeni said. “I think what he did, too, is play within himself, for the most part. I think for him to come as far as he has, in the two months that he’s been with us, I think is tremendous. I think he’s a guy we’re going to keep looking towards in the future and keep giving opportunities to go out there and display his stuff. I think he did a really good job this weekend.”
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Eloundou’s biggest issue isn’t simply finding playing time – he’s battling with fellow 19-year-old Dillon Serna, second-year pro Deshorn Brown and veterans Marvin Chávez and Vicente Sánchez, among others, for playing time along the wing. What’s more, he’s a teenager in a new land learning a whole new language, something Mastroeni thinks could be an asset for the French-speaking Eloundou in the future.
“A lot of hand gestures,” Mastroeni joked of how he communicates with Eloundou. “I think Charles has done a really good job of learning the language and understanding the language. He’s taken it upon himself to be able to understand what we’re saying as opposed to the rest of us learning French. I think he might speak better Spanish than he does English.
"But he does understand what we’re saying. I think that’s a sign of a good soccer brain, as well. He gets it.”
Chris Bianchi covers the Colorado Rapids for MLSsoccer.com.