CHESTER, Pa. – Fresh off a full 90 minutes in the Philadelphia Union’s Reserve League match against Montreal last weekend – his first game action in nearly four months – center back Bakary Soumaré is feeling fresh and fit.
Whether or not that translates into the 26-year-old making his Union debut Sunday when Philly face the Chicago Fire at PPL Park (7 pm ET, Galavision) remains to be seen.
But considering Soumaré played for the Fire from 2007-09 before going overseas, it would certainly make for a good storyline.
“I can’t think of a better motivational game for a guy returning to the league – to have that chance to play against his old team,” Union interim manager John Hackworth said. “But that said, we still have to evaluate him this week and see how he comes along in training. It’s certainly a possibility and hopefully he’s available for selection.”
Soumaré, though, poured some water on the possibility of playing against the Fire, saying the opponent “doesn’t matter to me” and that he’s simply excited to finally to get back on the field in a league game for Philly after signing in late June.
And playing in the Reserve League, he said, helped get him ready for that looming moment. Before this past weekend, he had been mostly rehabbing his knee after undergoing surgery in March.
“It was important to get 90 minutes because I haven’t played in four months,” he said. “Part of the plan before stepping in with the first team was to get 90 minutes. It was very important for my fitness and mentally. Playing a game is totally different than training every day.”
Soumaré’s arrival could be critical Sunday if All-Star center back Carlos Valdés is unavailable. Valdés was called into the Colombian national team's training camp in Spain next week, but as of Friday, the Union still weren’t sure about his travel plans and status for Sunday’s game.
With our without Valdés, Soumaré would certainly help slow down a stacked Chicago attack in a crucial game for the Union (7-11-2), who have their eyes on the final playoff spot which the Fire (10-7-5) currently hold.
“I feel good enough to be able to play and be solid,” said Soumaré, a 2008 Best XI defender and a 2009 MLS All-Star. “As a soccer player, I don’t think you’re ever 100 percent. There are always nagging injuries, always a little something. But I think I’m good to play. I’m ready to go.”
He’s more than ready. After sitting out longer than he ever has before, the defender is genuinely thrilled about his soon-to-be-official Union debut.
“I’ve played a lot of different games and in a lot of different countries,” Soumaré said. “But this is definitely one of the most exciting times of my career.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.