The secret is out: Ambroise Oyongo is one of the best players in Major League Soccer. While those who have seen the 25 year old defender over the past two seasons with the Montreal Impact could attest to his ability he always seemed to fly under the radar. That will no longer be the case. On Sunday Oyongo made history becoming the first-ever active player from Major League Soccer to win the African Cup of Nations, assisting Cameroon in their 2-1 defeat of Egypt.
Oyongo started for the Indomitable Lions on Sunday and played the full ninety minutes and both halves of extratime. Cameroon’s defensive effort was critical in the victory, holding Egypt to just two shots on target. Sunday’s result was an exclamation point for their defense, having shutout two difficult attacking sides in Ghana and Senegal en route to the final. Oyongo was the linchpin starting every match and being tasked with taking on some of Africa’s most challenging strikers, including Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Gabon), Jordan Ayew (Ghana), and Bertrand Traore (Burkina Faso).
His accomplishment in Libreville, Gabon was not lost upon his club coach Mauro Biello. “It is a big honor for him to win that championship, not only for their team but the whole nation,” said Biello. “Obviously there was a lot of pressure and things that he [Oyongo] had to deal with so we want for him to enjoy it.”
This was not the first time that Oyongo had put on national team colors. The Impact defender has become a bit of a regular with Cameroon, making 29 appearances for the senior side. He earned his first cap with the national team just a few months prior to going on trial with the New York Red Bulls in 2014. He was traded from the Red Bulls to the Impact in 2015 and has since made 49 appearances with the Canadian side.
Biello is very high on Oyongo. “I think he is one of the best left-backs in MLS,” he said. “Experiencing something like that is only going to help him and his career going forward.”
He also sees this moment as possibly being beneficial to the Impact and their hopes of earning their first-ever MLS Cup. The Impact have made the MLS Eastern Conference Finals in each of their last two seasons only to fall by narrow margins each time. “[His victory] will help us in terms of transmitting those moments to the group,” he said. “Living those moments, those pressure situations, those details, how to stay focused in those moments, those are all very important things that he has lived through and will be able to share with his teammates.”
In the short-term Oyongo will be returning to the Impact in preparation for their 2017 campaign. Biello indicated that the club would be speaking with him on Monday. He also mentioned that the club would be giving him time to recover from his time with the national team and would be using the preseason more on fine tuning and less on getting match fit.
Whether he stays with the Impact through the season is another question that the club will have to face as the season progresses. In a report from Metro’s Kristian Dyer the Impact have received offers from clubs in England, France, Switzerland, and Turkey.
“Right now he belongs to us and he is a very important player going forward,” said Biello. “It is normal when you do well internationally people are going to start looking. But right now he belongs to us and we are very happy that he is here with us.”
Even if he stays, he will may miss time during the season due to national team obligations. Cameroon’s victory was their fifth all-time at the African Cup of Nations and narrowed the gap with Egypt who currently have eight. It also sealed them a spot in this year’s FIFA Confederations Cup where they will play host Russia, Mexico, and New Zealand. Assuming he is called up for the tournament Oyongo would likely miss most of the month of June. Cameroon’s first match is on June 18th but training camp would likely begin earlier in the month. Depending upon when Cameroon exit the tournament he could miss up to five regular season matches.
The Indomitable Lions and possibly Oyongo will also continue World Cup Qualification in September.
The Impact next preseason match will be on February 15 against the Chicago Fire at Al Lang Stadium in Tampa, Florida.