A Tall Order
DC Native Maki Tall hopes to rehab from injury and suit up for USA in 2016 Olympics
by Tim Sitar
Not many soccer players in the history of the DMV are compared to Premier League legends, but there is a striker with a DMV connection making a name for himself in Europe who has drawn such comparisons.
That player is DC-born Maki Tall, a young and exciting 19 year-old forward who is already making a name for himself in Europe.
Tall left the region when he was just seven years old, but if he can have a big impact with his new Swiss Super League club- FC Sion- and go on to achieve his goal of representing the United States in next summer’s Olympic Games, there is no doubt that the soccer community in the DMV will proudly proclaim him as one of our own.
“Since I left DC when I was very young, I did not get many chances to play for local youth teams there.” says Tall, when asked if he has any DMV soccer memories worth sharing. “However, during my summer holidays, I did go play a few times with my dad at the Mall, around Constitution Avenue.”
Drawing comparisons to a legend
Tall is very well-traveled. In addition to DC, he has also lived in Cameroon, Senegal, Ivory Coast, and finally France, where Tall would draw comparisons to new Montreal Impact signee and Chelsea legend, Didier Drogba.
Maki says that he welcomes the comparisons, but also says he has a ways to go before they hold any weight.
“I am honored, of course. But Drogba is unique. I have a long way to go before I can be compared to a great player like him. I think the reason why people compare me to him is because he trained at the same youth academy in Le Mans. My style is that of a fast and powerful striker. I am also sure-footed in front of the goal. Drogba at his prime was a master in all these areas. I hope to be close to that level some day.”
Some of Maki’s other favorite players include Ibrahimovic, Aguero and Teves. Not a bad attacking front 3.
Yank abroad: adjusting to life overseas
Tall developed into one of the most promising prospects at the academy of French League 2 side Le Mans. His on-field exploits dazzled club officials, as he led Le Mans in scoring at four different age groups (U15, U16, U17, and U19). But Tall had quite a few obstacles in his way as a youth player in a foreign country trying to prove himself.
“When I came to Le Mans, I was almost 14 years old. I had to adjust to the cold weather since I was coming from Cote D’Ivoire, and I had to learn tactically how the game was played in France. The physical intensity of the game is also something that I had to adjust to.”
Off the field, his everyday routine also wasn’t exactly that of a normal high school player.
“Language was not a barrier, since I already spoke French. But aside from my father coming to visit every month, I had no family around. We also trained twice a day, and still had to take normal classes.”
His success at Le Mans Academy led to a contract with Lille in 2013, and a four-month loan with third division French club Red Star last season. While his minutes were limited in his first two matches for Red Star, when he did get on the field, he was able to show some glimpses. He was involved in his team being awarded 2 penalty kicks after coming on as a substitute in a League Cup match.
“All together I played in 4 games out of 12 for Red Star, but I missed most of the season because of National Team duty. I must say it was also difficult coming in at mid-season, in a team that was playing well and with a striker in top form (Kevin Lefaix was top scorer in the league). Still, it was a great experience training with very experienced players like (former Manchester United player) David Bellion every day.”
Proud to represent the Stars and Stripes
Tall spurned early offers from the French National team program. Later, he would suit up for FFF youth national teams, but the U.S. never left his mind. Perhaps his Christmas and summer vacations back to the DMV kept him grounded in the possibility of representing his land of birth.
“I go back to DC twice a year, when my schedule allows it. I am a big Wizards fan, and of course I do not miss any Redskins games on TV or through the internet. I have a permanent subscription to NFL and NBA League Pass, so I try to keep up with the Redskins and Wizards.”
“Hail to the Redskins!” Maki says on his Instagram account.
Maki wondering who would win in a foot race, him or John Wall.
His father, Madani, hoped to see his son in the red, white, and blue of the USMNT, rather than donning the kit of Les Bleus. His father’s hope became reality, at least at the U-20 level. U.S. U-20 head coach Tab Ramos called Maki into camp after the January qualifying tourney in Jamaica. When asked seeing his son step onto the pitch for the first time as a United States Youth National Team Player:
“I was very proud. The culture in America is that if you work hard, you will get your chance. Maki seized his chance when he was called up to join the U20 team, and it was a very great moment for all the family.”
The young and dynamic forward wasted little time adjusting to Ramos’ system, and found the back of the net two times in the team’s final four tune-up games before the U-20 World Cup.
Tall would go on to start in the 2015 U-20 WC opener against hopeful minnow, Myanmar. Tall netted the first goal in the 2-1 win for the Yanks. Yet, his time on the international stage was as almost brief as his stay in the DMV.
The right-footer left the Myanmar game in the 49th minute, never to return to World Cup action after suffering a broken left big toe. We asked him how his rehabilitation process has been going.
“I am rehabbing very well. I should start running next week, and I hope to play my first game with FC Sion in early September, after a game or two with the reserve team in order to be in full shape.”
Tall hopes to feature for the reigning Swiss Cup champion, FC Sion, this season and continue to improve. If he finds playing time, there is no doubt that he will stay on Jurgen Klinnsman’s rader.
Will an early World Cup qualifying call-up and cap tying appearance be in Tall’s future?
“That is what every soccer player dreams about. There is a lot of talent in the various USA teams, from the full side to the different youth players coming through the ranks. It will take hard work and a little bit of luck to be part of the full USMNT. Before that, my focus is on the Olympics.”
A young, dynamic, and exciting USMNT prospect who has set goals for himself and is prepared to work hard on (and off) the field to make them a reality. If Maki is able to complete his injury rehabilitation process and make a name for himself in the Swiss league, his dream of representing the United States at the 2016 Summer Olympics, and of going on to represent the full United State’s Men’s National Team one day, may become a reality.
From everyone in the DMV, good luck Maki. Make us proud.