The 2017 Africa Cup of Nations has reached its knockout stage. Cameroon is in the quarterfinals and readying to take on Senegal.
Reporting for Ugandan outlet New Vision, Fred Kaweesi caught up with Ambroise Oyongo, the Indomitable Lions' indomitable full back. He plays for Montreal Impact now, but Oyongo told Kaweesi of a deep and abiding relationship he had formed while at the New York Red Bulls, one that he credits for his development from highly-rated prospect to seasoned MLS starter and near-permanent member of his national team's starting lineup:
Sekagya is why I am playing at the Nations Cup.
Ibrahim Sekagya is one of Uganda's all-time greats. Respect for Sekagya's achievements and ability extends beyond his home country, but it is still a little surprising to find a Lion of Cameroon crediting a retired Ugandan Crane for his success.
Oyongo and Sekagya, however, played together for the New York Red Bulls in 2014. They were at different ends of their careers. The Cameroonian was in his rookie season in MLS, breaking into RBNY's first team over the course of the year, finishing 2014 as one of the more obvious success stories of a helter-skelter campaign that saw the Red Bulls struggle for much of the regular season before a late surge in form propelled the team to the Eastern Conference final in the playoffs.
Sekagya joined RBNY from Red Bull Salzburg mid-way through 2013. In 2014, he was a regular starter, but he retired at the end of the season and accepted a position as assistant coach with New York Red Bulls II. For Oyongo, Sekagya retired too soon:
He was still capable of playing at the highest level. For me, I still rate him as one of the best defenders in Africa.
But Sekagya made his choice, and the early returns from his coaching career are encouraging: the NYRB II team he helps run enjoyed one of the best seasons in USL history in 2016.
And one of the potential stars of this year's Africa Cup of Nations credits Sekagya with his success to date. For Oyongo, a year in Sekagya's company had a profound and lasting impact on his career:
I call him my father. He is a father to me. He is everything to me. He was such a wonderful player. Very intelligent and I learned so much from him.
It is now Sekagya's job to help form the next generation of New York Red Bulls, guiding the club's reserves toward contracts and careers with the first team. He is just entering his third season as assistant coach for NYRB II, still more or less learning his trade - but Oyongo's praise and the II team's performance in 2016 suggests perhaps Sekagya's coaching might be destined for as much respect as his playing career attracted.