It was always going to be a learning year for Hassan Ndam.
The 19-year-old central defender is with New York Red Bulls II on loan and his growth over the past two months is a major reason why this team is currently in the USL playoffs.
Two years ago during the preseason, the Cameroonian teenager joined the Red Bulls for some training and the chance to scrimmage with the team. Impressive even back then, he made his move official this offseason, signing with the MLS side. While he has yet to play in a match with the first team, he’s shown growth and an ever-expanding savviness in his first season of professional soccer.
Saying he’s now “ready for the playoffs,” Ndam has shown a maturation since mid-summer, an ideal time to do so for a Red Bull II side that finds themselves in the Eastern Conference Semifinals of the USL. The Red Bulls II play at the Tampa Bay Rowdies this Saturday.
“I had some ups and downs. As a young player in my time being as a professional, [it] wasn’t easy in the beginning, but the staff helped me a lot and my teammates they pushed me,” Ndam said following training on Thursday.
“The style of play wasn’t easy – to defend, pressing, stepping the line – but I think that took me a little bit of time.”
The first few games saw him being a bit hesitant at the USL level. Going up against veteran opponents, Ndam looked like a rookie. But a conversation with Red Bulls head coach Jesse Marsch and Red Bulls II head coach John Wolyniec were turning points, he said.
And the central defender clearly listened to what the staff had to say.
Ndam’s play in recent weeks has shown this growth. His individual defending, in particular in 1-on-1 situations, has been tremendous. He’s strong in the air, solid in his positioning and has shown a growing confidence going forward.
He’s tidied up the little things in his game including distribution and cut out the individual mistakes.
The transition from Montverde Academy in Florida to MLS has been a steep one. While Ndam possesses all the physical tools, he needed to round out some of his game to be ready to take the next step.
And while he made the bench a couple of times for MLS games, the next step of development for this teenage mega-talent has been the USL.
He admits that there was a learning curve this year, citing the league’s high-quality standard as he made the jump to becoming a professional.
“The professional speed of play. They play fast here. It was one, two-touch,” Ndam said.
“Where I was, everything was kind of slow. I was kind of the man over there. I come here, I’m nothing. I’m just 18-years old, trying hard to prove myself, getting better every day.”