Scouting reports ambitiously compare Maki Tall to Didier Drogba, the former Chelsea forward, which may not be a fair shout for a 16-year-old, but it is a good jumping off point for his introduction to U.S. Soccer fans.
Tall is one of the most promising prospects at Le Mans, a French Ligue 2 side, where he has led the club in scoring at four different age groups (U15, U16, U17, and now U19) over the last three years.
The rising star of French soccer was born in Washington D.C., lived in the United States for six years, and then traveled through a number of countries before landing in France three years ago.
“Maki has lived in Cameroon, Senegal, Ivory Coast, and now France since leaving the United States,” Madani Tall, Maki’s father, told TopDrawerSoccer.com over email. “He does go back to the U.S. twice a year (Christmas and summer vacations) so he never lost touch.”
Madani, who has played soccer all his life, said that his son started juggling the ball when he was two years old and said that “soccer has always been the most important thing in his life.”
Maki picked up the sport as a group activity in Cameroon in 2001 when he was six years old, He joined a club team in Senegal in 2004 called Generation Foot for his first introduction to organized soccer.
Four years later, Madani, who works for The World Bank, and Maki moved to Ivory Coast where he caught on with Club La Pépinière in Abidjan. The move to Ivory Coast also started his introduction to France where he attended a number of camps including one run by Jean Michel Larque, the former captain of Saint Etienne and the French National Team.
In 2009, Maki joined the Academy in Le Mans where his stock has quickly climbed. His top individual honor came one year later when he was awarded best player honors at a U15 International Youth Tournament in Paris.
The 16-year-old says that interest from the French National Team has been there in the past, but bad luck has kept him away from having the opportunity.
“I came close a few times, but got hurt at the worst moment last year and then missed seven league games,” Maki told TopDrawerSoccer.com. “I know it will happen soon if I keep working hard in practice and play well on Sundays.”
While the French have kept tabs on the striker, the U.S. has yet to contact him about a potential call-up. Maki said it “would be fantastic” to attend a U.S. youth national team camp.
Madani said that he is more inclined to see his son represent the U.S.
“In the U.S. National Team, he will get a chance if he is good. It is a culture of merit and excellence – no matter your origin or color,” Madani said. “Last year, Le Mans sent a striker with three goals to the French National Team at mid-season. At the same time, Maki has 12 goals but his name was not proposed. This would have never happened with the U.S.”
As for the comparison to Drogba, which was first suggested by French scouting reports, Maki is quick to dismiss it.
“I cannot compare myself to him,” he said. “He is a true champion and one of the world’s best strikers. I am just beginning in soccer and still have everything to learn. I am lucky to be scoring often, but I would need to do that for a long, long time before even coming close to Drogba.”
The teenager said that his best attributes were his speed and being “sure footed in front of the goal.”
This season, Maki has five goals in six games, as the leading scorer on the squad and playing up a few years – he was born on October 30, 1995. The pure striker is also training with the reserve squad at the club, but yet to practice with the first team.
“The season is young,” Maki replied when asked if he was training with the first team yet.
After scoring 64 goals over the last three seasons with the club, it might just be a matter of time before his club has him training with the first team. The U.S. U18 Men’s National Team should not be far behind.
Portland Timbers Academy winger trains in England
Lucas Cawley, a Utah-native, joined the Portland Timbers Academy this season for its inaugural year in the USSF Development Academy, but prior to heading to the Northwest, he went on trial with the U18 teams for a couple of clubs in England.
“It was awesome,” Cawley told TopDrawerSoccer.com over the phone last week about the experience. “I went over there to Southampton and Fulham for a weeklong trial with each. The experience was invaluable.”
The attacker played with Real Salt Lake-Arizona last season, so he has some experience with the top youth club teams in the U.S.
“I don’t think the Development Academy is far off [what I saw in England],” he said. “It is right there.”
Without a European Union passport, Cawley had no way to latch on with either club, but did show off his technical abilities with his trademarked charging runs down the flank.
For now, the high school junior is looking at various colleges for the next step in his soccer-playing career. The professional possibilities definitely remain in the thought process for future though.
J.R. Eskilson is a staff reporter at TopDrawerSoccer.com. Send him an email.