In the fields, parking lots and streets of Cameroon, soccer is a game of survival.
You don’t play for a scoreboard or a scout. You play to keep playing, with four-on-four or five-on-five games filling hours of every day. A goal means another game; allowing one means waiting to get back on.
“Inside, you’re working so hard to make sure you don’t lose,” Tony Tchani reminisces about his soccer upbringing in West Africa. “If you lose, you might be out for a good 15 or 20 minutes. There was no time. It was just one goal and you’re out.
“After school, we would drop off our bags, get whatever balls we could and play soccer,” he continues. “I liked playing with small balls; the little [futsal] balls were always really fun to me. People would always say I was really good with them. I didn’t know why, but I was a guy who was always dancing around people and having fun. You never thought about making it a career. It was just about having fun.”
Of course, the career came later. And while Tchani uses a full-size ball now with Columbus Crew SC, he still likes to dance around rather than plow through defenders.