The New York Red Bulls' Anatole Abang has been used sparingly in 2016: just two off-the-bench appearances for a total of 46 minutes in MLS so far this season. He has yet to score a goal in competitive play this year, but his performances in 2015 have clearly been sufficient to attract attention: Kristian Dyer has reported rumors of interest in the 19-year-old forward from top-flight clubs in Spain and France; his senior national team has called him to its squad for Africa Cup of Nations qualifying.
It will be surprising if Abang sees any time on the field in Cameroon's two matches against South Africa this month (March 26 and 29), largely because it is surprising he was called up at all.
He has a remarkable scoring record for RBNY - his six career goals have come in just 615 minutes of competitive first team action. There isn't another player on the club's all-time scoring chart who has six goals and fewer than 1,000 competitive minutes to his name. Conclusion: generally speaking, you expect a guy who is scoring reasonably regularly to earn some serious playing time. Abang stands out - for the moment (until he logs a few more scoreless minutes, at the very least) - as a conspicuously productive but underused talent.
That seemingly peculiar lack of playing time is, of course, explained by circumstance: last season, he was a young newcomer to a team that was playing well and that did not suffer many injuries. He didn't get many chances, and Bradley Wright-Phillips didn't offer much reason to be benched in favor of a teenage unknown.
Clearly, his productivity has not gone unnoticed. But six goals in 600-odd minutes wasn't sufficient to compel Jesse Marsch into making Abang his day-to-day starter for RBNY, so why should it warrant a call-up to a stacked Cameroon attacking corps?
The answer might be that it doesn't. Abang is perhaps being called up more because of off-the-field matters than anything that has happened on the pitch.
First, Cameroon has recently appointed a new national team head coach: Hugo Broos. The Belgian has named a 27-man squad for the March AFCON qualifiers, including five uncapped players - Abang and Columbus Crew's Tony Tchani among them. Maybe Broos is simply exploring the depth of his player pool, and getting a close look at some of the MLS-based talent at his disposal, to inform future scouting and selection options.
Second, and perhaps most pertinently, a week-old report from Camfoot.com suggests Abang has attracted attention from US Soccer:
En effet, il a fallu de peu pour que le Cameroun perde son feu follet, courtisé par la Mayor Soccer League (Mls) qui lui proposaient de signer la nationalité américaine et le faire intégrer dans un premier temps la sélection des moins de 20 ans des Etats-Unis d’Amérique.
Rough translation: The US Federation is said to have offered the RBNY player American citizenship and a place in the U-20 national team.
That doesn't make a great amount of sense: it's hard to figure out how Abang would qualify for citizenship after roughly a year of living and working in the USA.
But the truth of the matter is not as important as the perception: if there are rumors in Cameroon that a promising young player is being courted by a foreign federation, it is entirely sensible for the national team to counter those rumors by drawing the player in close to the national team set-up (assuming they think the player is good enough to contribute in the long term).
Once A Metro has no idea if the rumor of US Soccer's interest in Abang is true. But the fact the rumor exists is the best reason we can find to explain his out-of-the-blue summons to his national team's AFCON cause. His career to date suggests he'll make the best of whatever chance he's given.
Best of luck, Anatole; hope you get a few minutes against South Africa.