Of the five unsigned players in training camp during the first week (Logan McDaniel, the team’s fourth round Supplemental Draft pick will join training camp in Los Angeles), the most high profile by a wide margin is Franck Songo’o. The 5’10” winger has been active in 9v9 training games, combining well with whomever he is paired, creating chances for others and ripping a few shots of his own. With both Darlington Nagbe and Khalif Alhassan roaming more centrally in the early days of training camp, Songo’o has been given a chance to show his abilities on the wings.
The son of former Cameroon international goalkeeper Jacques Songo’o (the Indomitable Lions’ first choice keeper in the 1998 World Cup), Franck began his youth career at his father’s former club, Deportivo de La Coruña, before moving to Barcelona at the age of 15. In 2005, aged 18, Songo’o moved to Portsmouth in the English Premier League. Unable to crack the first team on a regular basis, he spent the next three seasons on a series of short-term loans at Bournemouth, Preston North End, Crystal Palace and Sheffield Wednesday. In the summer of 2008, Songo’o moved back to Spain, signing with Real Zaragoza, then in Spain’s second division. In his first season, Zaragoza were promoted with Songo’o playing an important role on the wing. But he was loaned to Real Sociedad in his second season back in Spain, appearing eight times in the Basque country. His contract with Zaragoza was terminated in September 2010, leading to a signing with second division Albacete. When Albacete were relegated at the end of the 2010/11 season, Songo’o was released.
All of that background, movement between clubs, uncertainty in first team position or starting role has brought Songo’o to Portland. At only 24 years old, he is certainly not too old to be considered for a new role at a new club. Though it is obviously quite early in the process, Songo’o seems very comfortable at Timbers training sessions. He appears to have already developed an on-field relationship, if not friendship, with both Rodney Wallace and Nagbe. Between training games and after practice sessions, Songo’o can be seen chatting and gesturing with those players, as if he is already a full member of the squad.
When asked specifically about the winger after Saturday’s training session, John Spencer said the following:
“I think he’s done well. As I said when we brought him in, he’s got a very very good resume. He’s played with some decent clubs overseas, in Europe. It’s down to him but we’re looking to add a quality player in that position. Everybody’s thing is that we need strength and depth, and we know that, but you can’t just go and get anybody. The players that you’re bringing in have to be better than the ones you’ve got or ones that you can find in this country. And if they’re not, then you can’t sign them. What I’ve seen over the last three or four days has pleased us. But you kind of tend to see that with guys that come in on trial. For the first week they’re buzzing around and that’s why we can’t be too hasty in the decision to sign a guy. So we’ll wait to get down there to Los Angeles, we’ll give him a couple of games down there. If he performs the way he has been over the last couple of days, then we’ll sit down and see if we can’t get something organized and get something signed.”
Combining the manager’s words with Merritt Paulson‘s recent tweet about the availability of two international slots, it would seem Songo’o is well on his way to securing a spot on the Timbers’ 2012 roster. Both Spencer and Paulson have indicated that competition on the wings is necessary to get the most out of existing players (Nagbe, Alhassan and the currently injured Sal Zizzo) as well as add depth and flexibility to the side. Granted, only a week’s worth of half-field games is not enough to judge Songo’o’s viability in such a role. But it must be said that he has been one of, if not the most impressive player of the first week of training camp. His skills on the ball are matched only by Nagbe and Alhassan, his quickness, particularly with the ball at his feet, is quite impressive and his finishing is a welcome sight after the Timbers’ wingers scored just one goal between them in 2011. Again, a full field and 11v11 situation is needed before fully judging but given his reputation as a true winger, it would stand to reason that he could be even more impressive on a full field.
Songo’o will travel to Los Angeles with the team and is likely to appear in at least two of the club’s four pre-season games at the Home Depot Center complex.