Player Feature: Philippe Bissohong
By Matt Skinner
Not every player’s career can be described as being, “something out of a fairy tale,” but for Philippe Bissohong, his journey with the soccer ball is just that. Having grown up kicking whatever he could on the dirt-covered streets of Cameroon, the 22 year-old’s journey has involved adapting to a new culture here in the United States as well as coming to terms with the many lessons learnt as a professional.
Bissohong was born in Yaounde, the capital of Cameroon. Growing up within the nation’s second most populated city, he begins the interview reminiscing with a grin on his face about his time growing up in the African nation.
“Soccer, just like in a lot of African countries, was the main thing to do. I used to play a lot of soccer, whether it was before school, during school or after school. That’s what my life was pretty much about. Just going to school and playing soccer.”
“Playing soccer was the thing to do,” continues the defender. “It just came naturally. I don’t even know when I started playing. As soon as you were able to start walking you were able to kick the ball. Sometimes we didn’t even have a ball so we would play on the dirt with cans instead.”
Some of his enthusiasm for the game can be attributed to simply growing up in the right place at the right time. Throughout the 90’s, the Cameroonian national team was beginning to cement their place as one of the continent’s powerhouses. Like many other children, Bissohong wanted to emulate the “Indomitable Lions” whenever the opportunity arose.
“The Cameroon national team was and still is a very successful team, one of the most successful in Africa. Of course a lot of people in my country see that as their dream to one day play for the team and wear those colors. As a child it did inspire me to maybe someday play for the national team”.
Bissohong standing his ground
The transition into becoming a teenager can be a very foreign period for many children. In the case of Bissohong, it also meant embracing an entirely new culture as his father accepted a job offer to work in the United States. Alongside his mother, brother and two sisters, the defender ventured to the other side of the Atlantic where he would begin a new life in Maryland.
“I arrived to the United States during middle school and it was tough,” the Cameroonian recalls. “Honestly it was one of the hardest things in my life that I have had to go through, from learning the culture to learning the language. Everything was from scratch.”
Yet his passion for kicking the ball aided him in settling into his new surroundings.
“Soccer actually helped me a lot in feeling more comfortable here. I started playing in middle school and this continued right through high school. Playing soccer made me feel less depressed. I was happier and it helped me in making a lot of friends both inside and outside of the team. It was a universal language.”
Bissohong’s talent was not going unnoticed. He was drawing the attention of several university coaches up and down the east coast. In the end, however, he opted to stay in Maryland and enrolled at the University of Maryland Baltimore County with the aim of trying out for their collegiate side.
“When I got there the team was really good. It was kind of intimidating seeing a team with so much talent. It started casting doubts as to whether or not I was good enough to play here,” Bissohong admits. “So I spent the first few years playing for fun. However, in my last year I asked myself ‘what can I lose?’ I rationalized that I had one more year left so I might as well try out. If I made it onto the team then that would be great. If I didn’t, I would graduate and move on.”
It was this decision that introduced UMBC coach Pete Caringi into Bissohong’s life.
“When I first met him I thought he was a tough kind of guy, but now I see him as a mentor to me,” Bissohong said of his former coach. “I can call him for help anytime”.
Bissohong tried out for UMBC and the coach liked what he saw. Yet the player knew not to get his hopes up right away as he still had to earn his way into Caringi’s starting eleven. It was because of this mind set that it came as a real shock when he was summoned as a starter for the team.
“Over time the coach got to know me better in training and when I finally got on the team I started as a walk on. I was not only a walk on, but a walk on who was a starter for the team.” The Cameroonian adds that, “this kind of thing was unheard of and it brought me a lot of attention. I even had an article about me in the Baltimore Sun which I am proud of.”
Bissohong relaxed before a match
The defender graduated from UMBC with a bachelor’s degree in Information Systems. From there, Caringi put the graduate in contact with coach Silvino Gonzalo who invited him to try out for Real Maryland. Gonzalo was impressed with the young prospect and he has been plying his trade with the new USL-2 franchise ever since. Bissohong is the first to admit how his game has improved.
“I am definitely more knowledgeable and a more experienced player since arriving at Real Maryland. It helps that I am surrounded by people that have played everywhere and I am picking up useful things from the players and the coach alike.”
One notable name who has been pivotal to Bissohong’s improvement is Barbadian international and fellow teammate Daryl Ferguson.
“Ferguson is a great guy and plays internationally for Barbados. He has taught me a few things. We were developing a great chemistry between us up until the point where I got injured. Before the injury, the chemistry between not only Ferguson and I, but between the entire back four was great.”
The injury the defender is referring to came in the sixty-eighth minute against the Western Massachusetts Pioneers back in May. After tweaking his knee he was pulled from the game, marking the first time the defender had been injured throughout his entire playing career.
“My first thought when this happened was ‘it’s over’,” recalls the Cameroonian on the injury. “When it happened I wanted to keep playing but Ferguson told me ‘if you can’t do it then don’t force it’. I went down and was stretchered off the pitch. When I was sitting on the bench I kept thinking ‘this might be it’.”
Luckily enough the injury wasn’t as bad as Bissohong had imagined it. Within a month he was almost fully fit to play again. Yet he confesses that those three weeks on the bench helped further his development as a player.
“Having never been injured before, it was kind of interesting watching the game from the outside,” says the UMBC graduate. “I had never stood back and watched the team play so it was very knowledgeable to sit back and watch it from a spectator’s point of view. This helped me when I stepped back onto the field.”
Bissohong confesses that he would like to someday combine his database studies with his current profession, but concedes that this thought is a long way down the line. Concluding the interview before heading off for training, the player knows that for the time being he has to remain focused.
“I want to improve. I want to keep playing soccer and I know there’s a lot of room for improvement in my game.”
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