Maki Tall, 19, Scores in Debut for U.S. Under-20s
The Washington, D.C., native has played internationally for both the Ivory Coast and France, but now he is eyeing the 2015 U-20 World Cup as a member of Tab Ramos' squad.
April 01, 2015
LONDON—The United States U-20 team lost to England 2-1 on Sunday afternoon at Home Park in Plymouth but the game marked an impressive American debut for forward Maki Tall, who had previously played for French youth national teams.
Tall scored in the 73rd minute when he hit home a Joel Sonora mis-hit. It wasn’t enough to give Tab Ramos’ team a result, but it was definitely enough to raise a few eyebrows.
The 19-year-old forward was born in Washington, D.C., and lived there until he was seven. At that point he moved abroad with his family—first to several countries in Africa but later his family settled in France. And that's where Tall began to take soccer seriously.
Gifted athletically, Tall worked with top coaches at Le Mans FC—the same club that developed Didier Drogba—and even earned call-ups to France’s U-18 and U-19 national teams. He is a bit of a late-bloomer in the sport but his development during his middle teenage years was rapid.
“Before France I wasn’t serious, I was just having fun,” Tall told American Soccer Now. “It went very fast for me. I didn’t ever know I could be at this level when I was at like 12.”
Soon after he signed with Lille in 2013 and began playing for the club’s second team. At the same time, France was quick to pounce on Tall for its youth national teams but he hasn’t been involved with its youth set up in some time. In December he even accepted an invitation to play for the Ivory Coast U-20 team, where he scored a goal against Senegal in a friendly.
In January, things began to change for Tall. Lille loaned him to Red Star in France’s third tier so he could get some playing time. His best moment there came in a French Cup game against Consolat Marseille on January 23. Tall came into the game in the 76th minute and drew two penalties in a 2-0 win.
In March he received a call from U.S. Soccer, inviting him to play for its U-20 national team which is currently training here. Despite representing two different national teams in recent years, Tall did not hesitate when the U.S. extended an offer.
“I jumped on it,” he said.
His first experience with the U.S. U-20 team has gone well. Coming into camp, he did not know any of his teammates—although he had played against a few of them. The experience has allowed him to reconnect with the United States, which he visits every year. (He still attends Washington Wizards games whenever he can. )
As is the case with most players with strong ties to other countries, Tall has not had any problem integrating into the American squad.
“Here it’s very cool with the players and the coaching staff,” Tall said. “The players are all nice. I’ve liked it. I think the team is great. From what I’ve seen we have great players on defense. On offense we need to work on things to try to work together.
"I also know there are good players who did not come who can also help. I’ve been surprised. France is very competitive too. There are more players playing in top clubs and earning minutes in big leagues. I’ve been surprised. It is good here. They have good spirit and energy. They bring everything to the table.”
While the first part of 2015 has brought about significant change for Tall, the second half should introduce even more. His contract with Lille expires after this season. Red Star is currently in first place in the third tier Championnat National. If Red Star is promoted after this season into Ligue 2, he’d strongly consider returning.
Of course the potential to play in this summer's U-20 World Cup in New Zealand would certainly be a career milestone. He scored a goal in his first game with the U.S. and is making a positive impression at an opportune moment. Tall is now in a great position to make the World Cup squad—something he would not have imagined just a few weeks ago.
“The opportunities don’t come every day,” Tall said. “I am thankful for everybody. Getting onto the field is very important. I think I can bring lots of stuff to the team and maybe go to the World Cup and do great things there.”
Brian Sciaretta is an American Soccer Now columnist and an ASN 100 panelist. Follow him on Twitter.