Marius Obekop was one of seven new signings by Orlando City B announced a week ago. The 21-year-old Cameroonian has featured for New York Red Bulls II in the USL for the past three seasons, with a few cameos for the senior team in that time.
Still a young player, Obekop has flirted with becoming an MLS player since arriving in the U.S., playing in eight top flight matches from 2013-2015, for a total of just 113 minutes. He's been more successful with the Red Bulls reserves / NYRBII, playing in 38 matches over three seasons and scoring 12 goals. He previously played 18 games and scored five goals for Renaissance FC de Ngoumou in the Cameroonian top division. Obekop has also earned 32 caps for Cameroon's U-17 and U-20 teams, scoring 16 goals in international play.
I spoke with Aaron Bauer, who covered New York Red Bulls II last season for Once a Metro, about what Orlando City fans can expect from Obekop. Below is my Q&A with Aaron, who also wrote this piece for OaM last June, in which he interviewed NYRB Sporting Director Andy Roxburgh. In the piece, Roxburgh had this to say about Obekop:
I've also got high hopes for young Marius Obekop because I felt he had talent it's just whether he wants it or not we'll soon find out and he's certainly got the talent.
Here's what Aaron himself had to say about Obekop:
What are the strengths and weaknesses of Marius Obekop's game?
Aaron Bauer: Marius Obekop is a creative, fast player. He is versatile in the sense that he can play on the wings and up front, and uses his creativity to overwhelm defenders. He will run at you all the time and defenders don't see it coming. He has a tendency to take large portions of the game off, and can be seen not always hustling back. He made one bench appearance for the Red Bulls in 2015, and in four minutes assisted on a goal and provided a huge spark. He's one footed, and creates a ton of chances. While he does that, he also bricks a lot of those chances. His passing also needs work.
Which is his most natural position?
AB: Despite playing as a winger with the Red Bulls, his best position is striker. He does not fit the MLS mode of striker because of his height, which is why he gets moved to the wing despite really only playing off one foot. If he were 2-3 inches taller he'd be a starting MLS striker daily.
Who are some MLS players that Obekop's game reminds you of?
AB: Dominic Oduro of Montreal was the first that came to mind, but Justin Mapp as well.
How did NYRB and NYRBII deploy him and how has he performed since coming to America?
AB: On the wings. His speed is his best asset and he will barrel down past any fullback. His crossing needs a ton of work, so playing in a system where wings cut in (which the Red Bulls did with Mike Grella) will benefit him that way (Author's note: this is a good fit for Orlando City). His first two years he did not get much playing time (110 minutes over seven substitute appearances), and last year he played the entire year in USL except for four MLS minutes (although he notched his first MLS assist in those four minutes). He was the leading scorer for NYRB II last year, with six goals and three assists. Again, not a crosser but plays on the wing.
What type of player is Obekop off the field? Good locker room guy?
AB: Obekop is kind of shy, especially since he came to the United States as an 18-year-old from Cameroon. He speaks French, and credited the Red Bulls for surrounding him with French-speaking players to help ease his transition. Having both Ambroise Oyongo and Anatole Abang on the team the past few years helped tremendously. The fact that he stayed in the U.S. to keep trying to make an MLS team speaks volumes that he knows he has work to do to lock down a regular MLS spot, but can achieve that.
What do you think his prospects are for eventually becoming a full-time MLS player?
AB: I think he could make an MLS roster next year frankly. He has the talent. But he's got to refine that talent. He's a weird case because he lost his age 19 and 20 seasons playing in the MLS reserve league. The USL saved his career and he's only 21. I think he if improves his passing he can play wing in MLS in a 4-3-3 type system. Until then he'll be stuck in the end of the bench/loaned to USL situation. If there is an MLS team out there playing with two strikers up top and is willing to let Obekop complement a pure No. 9, he'd be a starter today. MLS teams just get scared off that he's about 5-foot-9.
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We appreciate Aaron taking the time to let us know a bit more about OCB's new signing. It's encouraging to know that he's got MLS talent and simply needs to develop it. At only 21, Obekop still has time to develop into a top flight player in the U.S., and at a position that can certainly help the Lions.