VENTURA, Calif -- The night before last month’s MLS SuperDraft, the team dealt its first round selection to Colorado in exchange for midfielder Jeff Larentowicz, leaving the Fire without a pick until the second round.
After a bit of waiting the name was read: “The Chicago Fire select Yazid Atouba Emane, midfielder from Rainbow FC Bamenda, Cameroon.”
Unlike the other 37 selections, there was no traditional American college to associate him with – even the MLS draft guide had very limited information on him aside from the fact that he’d played for Cameroon in all four games at the 2011 FIFA U-20 World Cup.
Having seen him in just one game at the MLS combine, Fire President of Soccer Operations Javier Leon plainly said, “Ultimately, we felt he was the best player at that point in the draft.”
It would be fair to say no one was really sure what to make out of the expectations game.
Two and a half weeks into preseason, a lot more is known.
WATCH: Atouba's late blast vs. Columbus
The 30th overall selection is the team’s leading scorer so far with two goals in three matches.
A late strike last Wednesday against Columbus announced his name on the scene while a tidy chip in the second period of Tuesday’s 1-1 draw at Chivas USA showed that the first goal wasn’t a fluke.
Even without the goals, playing mainly as a left winger, Atouba has stretched defenses and caused some issues for opposing teams.
“The two goals have been very encouraging for me,” Atouba told Chicago-Fire.com through a translator Wednesday. “It’s given me a lot of confidence, motivated me even more and made me think about my efforts as a whole. I know I need to keep working hard and things will take some time.”
With home halfway around the world Atouba has done the early work in preseason without the regular comforts of most MLS Draft picks.
The 20-year-old speaks very little English and with only Strength and Conditioning Coach Tony Jouaux to speak French with, communication has been difficult at times but he still feels he speaks the overall language.
“You come to an environment where a lot of things are different and you’re not sure how you’ll adjust. At the end, soccer is the only thing everyone speaks and I feel I’ve done well in that area.”
While impressed by his two-goal performance and the attacking abilities Atouba brings to the field, Fire head coach Frank Klopas still feels there is work to be done with the 20-year-old winger.
“He’s obviously very good when he has the ball at his feet,” he said. “It’s not just your ability when you have the ball at your feet but when you don’t have it, the ability to move, create space and do a lot of running, the ability to defend.
“He has to get physically stronger but he has to play with a lot of discipline, we need to do a lot of tactical work with him. He has the willingness to work hard and that’s a good thing. I think we have a very good staff that can work to make him better and a lot of it is up to him.”
Atouba says he is working on all aspects that the coaching staff wants him to improve in but most of all, trying to bulk up his slight 5-6, 150 lbs frame has been the main focus.
“[MLS] is definitely a different level physically,” said the Cameroonian youth international. “I’m working on my strength training to get to a better level of physicality. I know this an area where I need improvement.”
Overall, Atouba is making the most of his first trip to the United States and he says he’ll continue working to make sure he’ll be here much longer.
“People in Cameroon think the U.S. is one of the coolest countries in the world so just getting the opportunity to come here has been very special for me so far.
"I’m very happy to be here -- it’s a big pleasure for me, I want to keep working so I can be part of this team.”