The fact remains that many foreign acquisitions struggle to adapt to Major League Soccer, both on and off the field. While the league is not the strongest in a tactical or technical sense, it has a unique style that meshes back-and-forth frenetic attacking with aggressive, unforgiving defending - not to mention the unique logistics and travel challenges. These routine adjustment struggles can be intensified during a loan, when players are expected to compete for a new club during a limited time frame with unfamiliar management.
The New York Red Bulls are known to tap this particular market, frequently dabbling in loan-to-buy deals and borrowing players from sister clubs in Europe. The most recent short-term acquisition is intriguing attacker Samuel Tetteh, who presents as a unique hybrid capable of running at defenders, stretching the back line, and carving out space in the box as a quasi-target striker.
He’s no stranger to riding the soccer rails, having spent the last two-and-a-half years on loan at Austrian club LASK Linz. But will the 24-year-old Ghanaian adapt to MLS and American life? Based on a recent interview with Footy-GHANA, it appears he’s taking everything in stride.
“It is a different place, a different league and it will be tough,” Tetteh told writer Muftawu Adamu. “But as a player I have to quickly adjust to face any challenge that comes. Surely I’m ready for the challenge because their style of play is similar to Red Bull [Salzburg] and that will help me adjust. It will be much easier to settle in the team and I also have to study the league and prepare myself for the task and I know with time and hard work I will excel.”
Parsing out that quote leads one to believe that referring to the loan as a challenge is mere boilerplate lip service. Tetteh demonstrated his adaptability to a new setup by contributing an impressive 19 goals and 15 assists in 86 appearances with LASK in somewhat limited playing time. He’s already familiar with the high press due to his time at Red Bull Salzburg and Liefering, so there shouldn’t be too much of a tactical adjustment. Perhaps most importantly, is that he, the player, personally decided to move stateside and will likely put in the work necessary to be in a position to succeed. He had “a lot of offers from Europe” but “needed a new challenge to establish [his] name differently.”
Of course, a successful loan is not solely dependent on the player, but also the temporary environment. As Jeff Carlisle wrote for ESPN, it requires the right roster and coach, “the ability of the player to adapt quickly and perform well,” and communication. By these standards, a reading of the tea leaves yields an optimistic result.
As evidenced by an anemic offensive performance, the New York Red Bulls have a glaring need for a striker, one that can be filled by Tetteh. He’s demonstrated the ability to adapt to new environments. He moved away from home at a young age to join the Feyernoord Rotterdam-affiliated WAFA Academy. He turned a last-minute emergency call-up into a profile-rising stint with the Ghana national team. His transfer to Salzburg was on the way to becoming an overwhelming success until being derailed by a terrible injury. The spell at LASK Linz was productive, so much so that it was extended for an additional year and the club was reportedly interested in making the deal permanent. Players who fail to perform on loan or are toxic to the locker room culture tend to not be brought back.
Soccer lends itself to romantic notions on the beautiful nature of the global game that it supposedly rises above the brutality and corporatism of other sports presenting as less appealing to the cultivated and sophisticated palette. Those subscribing to that naive worldview are often rudely awakened to harsh realities, discovering that it is a business and players at the top levels of the game have not succeeded out of an exuberant passion but a cold professionalism. Perhaps to overcome the commoditized and unfeeling nature of the modern game rife with compulsory moves to unknown or unwelcome locations, the journeymen players who manage to hang in the intermediate levels of the pro game adopt a numb-to-the-world blue collar tradesman’s mentality, where a job is a way to earn a living.
“Football will take you to places and you have to sell yourself in any league you find yourself,” Tetteh opined. “Watching [Columbus Crew defenders Harrison Afful and Gideon Mensah] play for their club and being successful, I want to take a cue and sell myself as well.”
It’s difficult to blame a player for taking a mercenary view of the world, but the fastest way back up the ladder is to succeed, even in a relative backwater like MLS. As Tetteh said, he’s “targeting trophies with my new club” and wants “to score goals, to assist and do whatever I can to help my team win all trophies at stake in every competition and make history with them.”
A lot of things in life can’t be changed, but what can be is the reaction to circumstances. Like any player, Tetteh likely would rather be competing in the UEFA Champions League with Salzburg. But based on quotes and personal history, he’s in New York with the best intentions and is going to compete to the best of his abilities, which are clearly at a high level.