The way certain players move on a soccer field makes them stand out even if you are sitting in the last row of a gigantic arena. In Major League Soccer, the upright running style of Chris Wondolowski and the darting movements of Diego Chara are identifiable on the grainiest of televisions.
Michee Ngalina is unmissable on a soccer pitch; his gait is loose and almost impossibly bouncy, and he can appear to float when approaching defenders, controlling the timing of a duel as much as the ball itself. Since joining Bethlehem Steel last season, Ngalina has been effervescent in attack and dedicated on the training fields. He did not arrive as a strong defender, but this season he has grown that side of his game while playing both up front and in a deeper role. That newfound flexibility — last season, Ngalina could be unplayable individually but unable to command attention against an organized defense — has convinced the Union that he is ready to take the next step.
On a club that has already gone deep into its roster searching for goals, Ngalina represents both a look at the future and a potential tool for the present.
Jim Curtin often says that Ilsinho is the player opposing defenses least want to see late in a match, and he believes Ngalina is the second most dangerous 1v1 player in Union training most days.
What he must do to earn minutes
The big ask of Ngalina over the offseason was to add goals to his game. As a winger, the 19-year old from the Democratic Republic of Congo often found himself creating space and beating defenders but looked to others in the box.
This year, with Bethlehem Steel running out a 4-4-2/4-2-2-2, Ngalina is often closer to goal and unable to find the space he enjoyed on the wing. Instead of frustration, the response has been more direct play and, notably, more goals. Last weekend, the teenager scored the fastest brace in Steel history when he twice broke behind Loudoun United’s defense with sneaky runs across the defense that showcased both guile and acceleration.
The standout aspects of both goals are not the physical skills on display, but the intelligence of the movement. On the first, Ngalina starts yards in front of the defense and makes an aggressive run that suggests the ball he wants from midfielder Zach Zandi. The second goal is, intially, flummoxing. Ngalina starts on the left and reads that the right back has remained behind the rest of the defensive line. He’s yards from any defender by the time he collects a pass, smoothly spins in space, and tucks home his second behind Earl Edwards, Jr.
These steps forward in attack are promising, but they are also somewhat expected from the hard-working Ngalina.
They are not what will get him the starts he craves.
His defensive positioning, understanding of how to maximize transition moments, and ability to press and harry a MLS-quality line will be priorities for Jim Curtin and his staff as they seek to turn their lightning bolt of a signing into a storm that can rage at a defense for ninety minutes.
Get ready, Philadelphia. Michee Ngalina is humble, soft-spoken, and in possession of one of the most infectious smiles you’ll ever see. But he has the potential to be a devastating force on the soccer pitch.