FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – New England Revolution midfielder Kalifa Cisse wasn’t just looking for another club when he found himself out of contract last year.
At 29, the Malian International had already established himself in the English Premier League and the Portuguese Liga. It stood to reason that he could’ve continued his career in Europe.
But Cisse didn’t wasn’t in search of just another opportunity. No, it ran deeper than that.
“It was time for a new challenge,” Cisse said after the Revolution’s first preseason training . “That’s why I didn’t think twice when I signed with the Revolution.”
The genesis of Cisse’s arrival in Foxboro can be traced back last fall. The veteran midfielder joined the club for a trial, hoping to seize the chance to play in the United States.
Of course, what he showed on the training pitch was important. But Heaps and Burns were also looking at the person just as much as the player.
“During that process, we really saw someone who wanted to help lead this team,” Heaps said. “We want to have him (exert) his influence and let the locker room develop a (positive) mentality.”
In speaking with Cisse, Heaps and Burns both believed that the former Bristol City midfielder was just the man for the job. Now, it was just a matter of convincing him to buy into what the Revolution were doing.
Burns worked with Cisse and his agent to hammer out a deal. In addition to Burns, goalkeeper coach Remi Roy, who spoke Cisse’s native French, kept in touch with the defensive midfielder, all in the hopes of getting him on board.
“It wasn’t an overnight process,” head coach Jay Heaps said. “It took a few weeks. Credit Michael Burns and Remi Roy for really closing the gap on (the negotiations). And credit (Cisse) and his desire to be here. I think that’s something that was shown during the negotiations.”
Granted, he probably could have found the challenge he sought just about anywhere in MLS. But the way the defensive midfielder tells it, there was something about New England that piqued his interest.
“This is a solid club with a winning mentality and they really want to improve,” Cisse said. “They have a lot of ambition and that’s exciting for me.”
Another thing that the Revolution have of a lot of: youth. With a strong mix of young players on the roster, the seasoned veteran has already had a number of them approach him for advice and insight.
“The young lads have a lot of potential, but they need some help,” Cisse said. “That’s why I’m excited about this challenge. It gives me (even) more motivation to try to help them.”
Just as important as guiding the youngsters, Cisse will also be counted upon to stabilize the defense and midfield. The mid-season trade of Shalrie Joseph left a gaping hole in the middle of the park. While Clyde Simms performed admirably in Joseph’s absence, it’s clear that the team needed to find someone with traits similar to Joseph.
Enter Cisse, who regularly featured as defensive midfielder for Reading and Bristol City. Moreso, at 6-2, 180lbs, Cisse has the frame to withstand – and perhaps more improtantly, dole out – the punishment a defensive midfielder typically experiences in an increasingly physical league like MLS.
Pressure? You could say that. However, it appears Cisse is simply taking it all in stride.
So far, Cisse has been all smiles in camp, which opened on Saturday. Chatting with fellow French-speaking teammates Dimitry Imbongo and Saer Sene, Cisse is clearly at ease with the decision to come to New England.
He does, however, have one piece of advice for the rest of his teammates.
“Just work hard,” Cisse said.