Jim Curtin clearly likes Olivier Mbaizo’s potential to help the Union quickly, and it’s understandable.
“Olivier is a guy that has, from the moment he came in [during] the preseason with the group, showed that he’s a MLS-quality player,” the coach said after Wednesday’s practice. “A young defender who has done things well on the international level, has come into our training sessions and done a really good job.”
The 20-year-old Cameroon native can play on the left or right flank, isn’t afraid to get stuck in defensively, and from what Curtin has seen, can deliver a good cross, too. Mbaizo’s international pedigree also is legitimate. He played for Cameroon’s national team at the 2017 Under-20 Africa Cup of Nations, and made his senior-level debut two years ago.
“He’s a guy that is a true defender, likes to defend one-on-one, does have really good timing, gets forward, and gives the team width,” Curtin said.
But there’s a caveat: Mbaizo hasn’t played in a game since signing with Bethlehem Steel in January because of a knee injury. The Union brought him up to MLS based on his work in training sessions.
So will Mbaizo be ready to jump into the fire Saturday, when the Union visit a FC Dallas team (8 p.m., PHL17) that loves to play at high speed?
Or, perhaps more appropriately, will Curtin be ready to throw Mbaizo into the fire and give starting left back Matthew Real a weekend off after some recent struggles?
“There’s been injuries that have maybe caused minutes to come a little earlier than anticipated,” Curtin said, alluding to Fabinho’s torn mensicus. “Overall, I’m happy with Matthew, and we have a decision to make.”
Judging by the rest of Curtin’s remarks, it seems that Real is likely to remain atop the depth chart.
“I think that Matthew has had some really good moments, has contributed in a lot of ways … he’s putting balls into really dangerous areas for our strikers and could have had three or four assists already in a short time,” Curtin said. “Obviously, [there were] some things in the last game that he could work on defensively. … With young players, those things are going to come up.”
Curtin also said Mbaizo would have been with the Union sooner if not for the injury and paperwork issues.
“He’s a guy who’s been out a little while and missed time and now rejoins the team at a moment where maybe it looks like it was because of some desperation with injuries,” Curtin said. “But it is kind of just coincidental.”