A future star in the magic city.
This offseason has been one to remember for Legion fans. From big signings to not seeing the pitch until mid-July, this season has had its ups and downs. At the beginning of the off-season, all of Legion nation were shocked and pleasantly surprised by the signing of former Pittsburgh Riverhounds star Neco Brett. Coming off a terrible end to the previous season, ironically enough due to the hands of Brett more than anyone else, Legion president and general manager Jay Heaps knew he would have to make improvements to certain areas of the pitch to reach the goal of competing for a USL Championship trophy.
In addition to the signing of Brett, which nobody really saw coming, Heaps definitely made a statement with the other players he brought in, including but not limited to Alex Crognale, Bolu Akinyode, and cementing Brian Wright on a multi-year deal. In addition to those big names, there have been several “under-the-radar” signings. At first glance many of these players are presumed to be depth players, only coming on when needed late in matches due to fatigue or injury. A few in this category would be Eli Crognale, Bruno Lapa, Jonathan Dean, Jake Rufe, and Rudolf Mensah. If you look closely there are two significant components that each of these players possesses, youth and potential. However, if there is one player that could quickly develop into a star in the Magic City, his name is Rudolf Mensah.
The 19-year-old burst onto the scene in an early February preseason friendly against MLS powerhouse Atlanta United after scoring an 80th-minute equalizer for the Legion, but unfortunately the lead would be short lived. Although Legion FC did not win the match, everyone’s eyes inside of BBVA Field were locked on Mensah from the moment he stepped onto the pitch. Everyone could easily identify that the then 18-year-old had something to prove from his first run. The heart and passion in the young Ghanaian was like no other on the pitch that day. From sprinting across the entire field to diving into tackles, supporters from both squads could tell the level of intensity this young man brings to the table. In the 80th minute, Mensah captivated the eyes of all at BBVA Field when he received a pass from veteran midfielder Daigo Kobayashi, sprinted into the green grass, and ultimately slotted home a calm, cool, and collected finish. The moments after were, for a lack of a better word, breathtaking. As teammates ran to congratulate Rudolf, the aura of the stadium slightly changed from a loud celebration to an important realization. The understanding and realization that this young boy from Ghana has dedicated his life to making it in this sport. This moment, although some may view it only as a preseason goal, proves that Mensah will have the quality, and more importantly, the passion to make it in Birmingham and help the Legion offense greatly this season.
This campaign will not be a cake walk for Mensah by any means. The forward will face steep competition for a place on game day. While the departure of JJ Williams will help his chances, the loss of the U.S. Open Cup tournament will hurt tremendously, as this would have most likely been the main competition Mensah featured in. With the likes of Wright, Brett, Chandler Hoffman, and fellow country-man Prosper Kasim ahead of him in the attack, it seems nearly impossible for Mensah to get any game time. Although it seems like every factor is standing in the way of Mensah’s success, there is one thing that is for sure, the young Ghanaian has defied the odds up until this point in time. It would be unimaginable to state that “he will not touch the pitch this year”. The fact that the 19-year-old has found a playing home in a country halfway across the world where many players fail to reach is already impressive and crazy to think about.
All in all, it will be a fun and stressful time for all supporters who have their eyes on Mensah. Throughout this year everyone will hope to see this young man grow in his talents and help bring home some hardware. If there is still doubt in your head about Mensah, I will end by saying this. Remember the name Rudolf Mensah. Remember the name because this kid will become a star in front of everyones’ eyes, right here, in the Magic City.