For the first time in its illustrious history, the 2015 African Cup of Nations will have a North American feel to it. Over 5 MLS players have been selected to Africa’s top international tournament, which is slated to kick off in Equatorial Guinea on January the 16th. All matches will be available in the United States on beINSPORT.
Goalkeeper Rais Mbolhi (Algeria/Philadelphia Union, ) defenders Ambroise Oyongo (Cameroon/New York Red Bulls) and Samuel Inkoom (Ghana/Houston Dynamo,) and forward David Accam (Ghana/ Chicago Fire) have all been selected for their nation’s respective rosters.
The African Cup of Nations (AFCON) is the Confederation of African Football’s (CAF) top international tournament. It has been played every two or three years since 1957 and has served as an important tool for scouting and improving the quality of football in the tournament.
Egypt. who did not make this year’s tournament, lead the continent with 7 AFCON victories, followed by Ghana (4,) Cameroon (4,) Nigeria (3,) and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (2). Nigeria are the defending champions but will not be able to defend their title, having been eliminated during qualification.
Of the 4 MLS players headed to Equatorial Guinea, Mbolhi might be the most important to his team’s success. After helping lead the Desert Foxes to the Round of 16 at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil (and a fourth-place finish in AFCON 2010) expectations have been raised in Algeria for this to be the year that they raise the AFCON title. They have not done it since 1990, and against Ghana, Senegal, and South Africa in Group B that might be a tall ask.
Inkoom and Akkam are coming back to the Black Stars at an interesting time in their careers. Inkoom, after receiving minimal minutes with D.C. United in 2013, was traded this winter to the Houston Dynamo where he is expected to play a prominent role in rebuilding their once vaunted defense. Meanwhile, Accam just signed with the Fire after having made the move from Helsingborg in Sweden.Of the two, Inkoom is likely to have more of an impact on Ghana’s chances. Accam is situated behind skipper Asamoah Gyam (Al-Ain) and Jordan Ayew (Lorient) on Ghana’s depth chart and given that he has not played since Allsvenskan season ended in November he might not be in form. Ghana’s defense struggled in Brazil and Inkoom may receive some minutes either as a spot starter or as a top reserve.
Oyongo really came on for both the New York Red Bulls and for Cameroon late in the 2014 season. He made 12 starts with the Red Bulls in 2014 and became a regular for the Indomitable Lions during their stretch run for AFCON. As an outside defender he can match up well with some of Group C’s more difficult attackers, including Wilfried Bony (Cote D’Ivoire,) Cheick Diabate (Mali,) and Ismael Bangoura (Guinea).
Much like with Tim Cahill and Justin Meram being recalled for Australia and Iraq for the AFC Asian Cup, this is tremendous news for MLS. Having their players play in international tournaments raises awareness for the league and gives their teams added exposure in areas where they might traditionally not be as popular.
The timing isn’t great, given that training camps will be starting up for MLS right around January-February. But considering that it will not interfere with regular season matches it is not the worst timing either.