MSL : Ayuk continues to show vast potential in recent action
It was the last Saturday in June and the Union were taking on the Montreal Impact. Eric Ayuk was soaking wet. It had been raining most of the day, leaving his jersey damp and cold. Of course, it probably didn’t help that the wind caused the rain to swirl inside of PPL Park.
But when C.J. Sapong knocked the ball down to Ayuk, setting him up in the top corner of the 18, he forgot everything. All of a sudden, he wasn’t wet or cold but hyperfocused on the ball as it landed at his feet. With what seemed like practiced ease, Ayuk stepped up and hit a one-touch volley, rocketing the ball into the back of the net. It was a beautiful goal, completed by his backflip celebration.
As it turns out, the backflip is very symbolic of Ayuk’s potential and his ability on the field. If done correctly, it can be impressive, athletic and even graceful. If done poorly, someone could get hurt.
That is part of the risk that almost every young player brings to the field. Sometimes, when you watch Ayuk play, it’s hard to remember that he is only 18 years old. Some of his skill on the ball surpasses what most MLS players can do. His combination of quickness and agility give glimpses to just how good he is.
For one so young, Ayuk has already done a lot of travelling in order to play soccer. Born in Yaounde, Cameroon, Ayuk has spent a majority of the last few years of his life playing in Thailand. His move to the MLS came in the offseason, when he officially joined the team on March 3 after a free transfer from Rainbow FC Bamenda.
Ayuk trained with the team for a majority of the preseason, displaying some of the technical ability that can make him so lethal. While it was clear to head coach Jim Curtin and technical director Chris Albright that he was far from a finished product, they felt that the good outweighed the bad. After all, Curtin’s background is in youth soccer and the development of it so if anyone is capable of getting the best out of Ayuk, it would be him.
Let’s flip back to the game against Montreal.
The Union went into the second half tied 1-1 with Montreal and when they came out after halftime, the pitch was even more slippery and tougher to play on than it was in the first half.
This is where the part of Ayuk shows through. First, he received a yellow card in the 62nd minute after a hard slide tackle on a Montreal player. Card or not, the conditions on the pitch certainly didn’t help the situation.
Things only got worse after both teams added another goal. With the Union playing against a 10-man Montreal side, the game seemed to be tilting in the Union’s favor, riding the momentum generated by Maurice Edu’s equalizer. Perhaps that is why Ayuk made chose to go after the ball with the tenacity that he did, making a sliding challenge against Ignacio Piatti.
Piatti, probably working off the knowledge that Ayuk was already playing with a yellow card, let Ayuk slide into him before going to ground. For Ayuk’s part, his foot was in the air, causing the referee to issue him his second yellow card of the match.
When you combine the red card with the goal, you see why Ayuk has only started in six games this season. His goal was world-class but his slide tackle to get the red card was a decision that shows his lack of experience a professional atmosphere like the MLS.
“Yeah it’s a learning experience, you know ?” Edu, the team’s captain said about Ayuk after the game. “ You have to learn from these mistakes. You grow from them. They create you and they shape character. Obviously he took his goal very well and we were all pleased and happy for him because he’s a guy that works hard in training, and he deserves every bit of success that he does get.
“But now he has a silly mistake there towards the end of the game where we can push on with a man advantage and try to get that go ahead goal,” he continued. “You help the team and hurt the team a little bit so it’s one of those games. We’ve all been in that situation before. He’s a young kid so he’ll learn from that.”
But there is hope. A lot of hope, actually.
Though Ayuk will be suspended for the next MLS game (which will be against Portland Timbers this weekend), he was eligible to play in the U.S. Open Cup matchup against DC United last Tuesday. Curtin took advantage of the situation and gave Ayuk a start and a shot at redemption.
Ayuk rewarded his manager’s confidence with what was probably his best performance in a Union jersey. He hounded United on the wings all night and played smart even though the team was down a man. He opened up the scoring for the Union after Sheanon Williams crossed the ball into the box and he made the intelligent run to space to knock it home.
He then showed his ability to possess the ball in the corner, boxing out much larger opponents and causing them to commit fouls. And then, as the game was winding down, he straight up embarrassed two United defenders in the corner with his dribbling, causing both of them to fall to the ground.
Curtin lauded him after the match, saying he thought that Ayuk, “had a great game start to finish, really making them back peddle” and complimenting his level of fitness by being able to go a full 90 minutes.
So while Ayuk sits on the sidelines this Saturday against the Timbers, he can take solace in the fact that he’s improving with every game and know that if he can play like he did against D.C. United in the Open Cup game, then Eastern Conference left backs are going to be having Ayuk-themed nightmares.