Fire keen on keeping SuperDraft pick Yazid Atouba
CHARLESTON, S.C. -- Midfielder Alex may have claimed all the headlines with the stoppage-time game-winner in Tuesday's dramatic Carolina Challenge Cup victory over the Charleston Battery, but the Chicago Fire's most impactful player on the night was diminutive Cameroonian Yazid Atouba, the No. 30 overall pick in January's SuperDraft.
The 20-year-old left wing livewire, who was subbed in at halftime, brought a surge of energy and unpredictability to a Chicago attack that had a dull edge to it in the first half at Blackbaud Stadium.
"I think like you saw the ability that he has," Fire manager Frank Klopas said after the match. "He wants the ball and he's very good at one-on-one and I think a lot of little things that he does. He definitely has a lot of ability and we're working hard without the ball on his abilty to defend. But he's young and he has a lot of ability which you don't see. And his appetite to work hard, his willingness and his attitude has been fantastic."
WATCH: Yazid Atouba's highlight reel
Wednesday's performance is the latest in a preseason that has already seen him score against Chivas USA and Columbus in California earlier in February. And it was reminiscent of the kind of impact he made when he finally joined the MLS Player Combine down in Florida after some red tape forced him to miss out on the first few days.
But have his efforts been enough to earn him a contract with the Fire? Klopas is optimistic and so is the player.
"I think we're close to doing so," Klopas said of the prospect of signing him. "We definitely want to keep him and we're close to announcing something."
"It still hasn't been finalized," Atouba told MLSsoccer.com about a potential contract. "But I am convinced that it's going to happen."
The youngster is no slouch. He's talented enough to have been a former former member of the Cameroon youth national team and he played at the 2011 Under-20 FIFA World Cup in Colombia.
"I think for the moment I am very very happy to be part of this group and I feel real good because of how they've made me feel welcome," he said. "Everything has been really good since I arrived. All my teammates give me advice and they try to encourage me because I'm new to the group. But everything is going well and with the grace of god everything will go the best it possibly can."
Come Saturday's finale against Vancouver in the Carolina Challenge Cup (5 pm ET), he may have fewer minutes than the 45 he enjoyed on Wednesday given that the Fire are expected to push their starting unit into the second half with the start of the season fast approaching on March 3 vs. the LA Galaxy.
But as accelerated as Atouba may seem on the field, he's measured and calm off it, ready to take things one step at a time.
"If things go well this season I will be able to continue to progress as professional soccer player," he said. "And this is what I hope for and this is what I came here to do in the USA."