Africa has long been a hotbed for soccer players. A quick scan of English Premier League and World Cup rosters unearths countless players who either carry African passports or have direct ties there.
What you'd also find is that the vast majority of those players are from West African nations such as Ghana, Nigeria, Ivory Coast and Cameroon. To a lesser degree, you'd find North African countries like Morocco, Egypt and Algeria as well as a few more from South Africa.
What you won't find is many players from East African nations. Zimbabwe has had three players in the EPL and Zambia has had one, and those countries are often considered to be part of Southern Africa. Of the five countries that formally constitute the East African Community -- Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania -- none have ever sent a player to the EPL and none of them have ever sent a team to the World Cup.
Under the belief that a region of the world with hundreds of millions of people may have some untapped talent, the Sounders have taken some serious interest in expanding their footprint.
"West Africa is so ... picked over and so populated by European teams, agents and scouts for so many years that it felt a little difficult to compete," Sounders GM Adrian Hanauer said today in addressing rumors that the team had already bought a Tanzanian team. "So I’ve been curious about East Africa. Less players come out of East Africa, but there’s less competition there."
Although news that the Sounders have already bought Africa Lyon is apparently premature, it is true that the two teams have been in contact and that the Sounders even sent a scout there on a fact-finding mission.
"We sent Kurt Schmid over there to kick some tires and look under the hood a little bit to try to get a sense of the level and infrastructure, facilities, coaching structure, professionalism so on and so forth," Hanauer said. "He’ll come back and we’ll sit down and discuss if a relationship makes sense. There’s absolutely all there is to it."
The relationship with Lyon goes back several years, Hanauer said. Following one of the USL championships (Hanauer thought it was 2005), the Sounders played a handful of games in Lyon's hometown of Dar es Salaam. Hanauer described the trip as a great experience and said they made and maintained several contacts with members of the team. An opportunity recently presented itself to become more involved and the Sounders are, in fact, considering the possibility of buying into the team.
Hanauer was quick to point out, though, that this is hardly considered a major transaction and likened to paying off in a similar way as a Sounders academy than as something that would have an immediate impact on the MLS roster. Even in the world of the Tanzanian Premier League, Lyon was a mid-table side.
"This is a very small budget line item relative to what we’ve got here," he said. "It’s relatively insiginficant from an investment standpoint. It’s not likely to pay massively valuable dividends, otherwise it wouldn’t be a low, small line-item on the expense side.
"Is there a pipeline potentially of good young East African players? Certainly there are many African players playing in top leagues around the world. My hunch is that there will be more East Africans players ... that will develop. Again it’s a small investment to potentially create that pipeline."