A week and a half ago, Cameroon's national football team walked out on a poorly maintained pitch in Macedon for an international friendly. Remote locales in Eastern and Central Europe are not foreign to The Indomitable Lions; par for the course for a West African FA and a chance for those in Macedonia to see some of the world's greatest footballers up close.
The starting lineup for the team featured Inter Milan's Samuel Eto'o, Mallorca's leading goal scorer Pierre Webo, Olympique de Marseille's Stephane M'Bia, Ajax's Eyong Enoh, Tottenham's Sebastien Bassong, AS Nancy Lorraine's Landry N'Guemo, RC Lens' Henri Bedimo Nsame, AS Monaco's Nicolas N'Koulou, and AFC Valenciennes' Gaetan Bong. But as the final whistle blew the only goal scored during the game was credited to Matthew Mbuta. As in the Matthew Mbuta formerly of the club formerly known as Crystal Palace Baltimore.
Mbuta not only got his first international cap for Cameroon, but logged his first international goal after a good showing at a special prospect camp held for uncapped Cameroonian international players in December.
First off, congratulations to Mr. Mbuta. The biggest loss for us with the collapse of CP Baltimore is being deprived of the opportunity to see Matthew play live. Ever since the night that Mbuta electrified a few hundred spectators at a high school in Annapolis as a third-division football team knocked the Red Bulls out of the U.S. Open Cup, we've traveled all over Maryland to see him play. Beyond just being a ridiculously skilled player, Mbuta is also an extremely nice person and was regularly one of the first to wade over to the fans at the end of matches at UMBC.
When I have tried to get friends to make the trip up from DC to see CP Baltimore, the principal selling point has always been "you've got to see this guy play." And, on the few occasions that I was able to get anyone to bite, Mbuta made the trek worthwhile.
Because of my limited knowledge about the game, I have generally accepted that my judgment about the relative value of players is slightly impaired. But Mbuta's performances always stand out and I have struggled to understand why he has not gotten more of a look in the MLS. He failed to secure a contract after an extended trial with D.C. United and could not get playing time when he won a contract for the Red Bulls. The question has bugged me to such an extent that when we kept seeing Ben Olsen at Ludwig for Maryland games last season, the only thing that I ever wanted to approach him with was why Mbuta was not playing at the top level of U.S. soccer.
The fact that a Cameroonian international player struggles to obtain contracts in the United States makes little sense. Someone, somewhere in the MLS can use Mbuta's prodigious talents.
Or perhaps, Mr. Mbuta's trials and tribulations in the U.S. should come to a merciful end. When IFK Mariehamn dropped another League Cup match earlier this week, the team featured U.S. club soccer castoffs Josh Wicks, Mike Zaher, Mason Trafford, and Joe Funicello (my Swedish ain't good, but I think Josh gave up a penalty for the only goal of the game). Mariehamn's not managed a great goal-scoring record to begin this new campaign, so if the club (or any Scandinavian team for that matter) needs to upgrade its attacking options, Matthew Mbuta should be in the mix.
I hope that he sticks around and we get a chance to see him compete in the top flight here. When I look at D.C. United's roster, I think Mbuta would be a good fit as a late game option off the bench to attack down the wings against tired fullbacks with his great pace and on-ball skills. But he is probably an even better fit on other rosters in the MLS or NASL.
Whatever the future brings, best of luck to Matthew. Congratulations on a tremendous opening bow as an international footballer and we hope that this is the beginning of bigger and better things for his career.