Coming to America ... for MLS?

Martin Rogers

As Major League Soccer's only representative in the Africa Cup of Nations, Colorado Rapids goalkeeper Bouna Coundoul was regularly quizzed by his Senegal teammates about life in the United States.

"They all wanted to know about David Beckham and the Los Angeles Galaxy," said Coundoul, who took over between the posts for Senegal's final group game, a 1-1 draw with South Africa.

"But I told them there is a lot more to the league and a lot of other good teams to talk about."

Coundoul believes that level of intrigue may lead to an influx of talented Africans coming over to play in MLS in future years, in much the same way that Central and South Americans have flooded the league this season.

Traditionally, most African players have looked to Europe for their shot at fame and fortune, with many ending up in the French leagues.

COLORADO RAPIDS

Colorado Rapids
Colorado Rapids

2007 RECORD:
9-13-8 (35 points), fourth in Western Conference, 10th overall. Missed MLS playoffs.

KEY MAN: Christian Gomez. He will carry a big burden after moving from the East Coast and will try to breathe some fire into a stagnant offence. His ability cannot be questioned, but at 33, does he still have enough in him to carry the team on his shoulders?

NEWCOMER: Ciaran O'Brien. A surprise choice with the fifth overall pick of the draft, O'Brien is hoping to lock down a spot in midfield. He is the son of former Ireland international Fran O'Brien and was a member of the Generation adidas program.

OUTLOOK: It remains to be seen whether the Rapids will have enough firepower to compete with the leading teams in the Western Conference. The team's tally of 29 goals last season was the second worst in the league and although the backline should still be fairly resolute, Gomez is their only genuine match-winner.

However, interest in MLS is clearly growing in Africa, thanks in no small part to the increased coverage provided by Beckham's switch from Real Madrid to Southern California.

"A lot of people asked me what the game is like over here and I said that MLS borrows a lot from the English way of playing. It can be direct and physical," Coundoul said.

"Of course, people will look to Europe first because that is where the big money and famous teams are, but people are having their eyes opened to the fact that there are interesting opportunities to be had in MLS.

"The way I was called into the Senegal team shows that there is a greater level of respect for MLS in Africa now and people are interested in what is happening here."

Coundoul may the best shot-stopper in the league. He has excellent reflexes and a high level of athleticism, and he continues to make solid progress, although his reading of the game and positional sense could use some work.

The Rapids missed out on the playoffs last season, slumping badly at the end of the campaign and dropping out of the race with a defeat to Real Salt Lake in their final home game.

This season starts with a big home clash against the Galaxy, and Coundoul is determined to get off on the right note.

"Everyone is talking about Beckham this and Beckham that," he said. "But I am not worried about who is on the other team, I am just concerned with trying to win the game.

"It was disappointing for us to get close to the playoffs but just miss out. We all want to get into the top eight this time."

Colorado's fortunes in 2008 may largely depend upon the impact of its main winter signing – Christian Gomez from DC United. Gomez will provide much of the attacking thrust, especially with key front man Conor Casey still struggling with injury.

Said Coundoul: "It is exciting to get a good new player come in and he can give the whole team a lift."