New York Red Bulls II defender Hassan Ndam wards off the attention of FC Cincinnati forward Fanendo Adi during New York's Eastern Conference Semifinals victory. | Photo courtesy Brett Hansbauer / FC Cincinnati
CINCINNATI – Prior to the New York Red Bulls II’s visit to FC Cincinnati on Saturday afternoon in the Eastern Conference Semifinals of the 2018 USL Cup Playoffs, there was no shortage of confidence coming from Red Bulls II defender Hassan Ndam as he and his teammates got set to square off with Fanendo Adi and Cincinnati’s potent attack.
“He did all these things in MLS and he is the top scorer here, he’s a great player and has great ability, but at the end of the day I practice with Bradley Wright-Phillips,” said Ndam. “Defending BWP is like I think much better than defending him. I learn a lot from that and everything goes in 50-50 and we end up seeing who the winner is.
“I’m not going to say anything that I’m going to dominate the game, but I am going to help my teammates as we try and get a win as a team moving forward to the next level.”
As the saying goes, it ain’t bragging when you back it up.
From a sliding challenge on Adi that set the tone for the contest in the fourth minute, Ndam rarely gave the veteran Nigerian much opportunity to impact the game as the 6-foot-4 Cameroonian helped lead his side to a second consecutive shutout this postseason and a place in the Eastern Conference Final for a third consecutive year.
Ndam finished the game with nine possession recoveries, seven clearances and three interceptions without registering a foul, but what might have been more notable is what the combination of he and fellow center back Kevin Politz did to limit Adi. The 28-year-old, who earlier this year was unveiled alongside Fatai Alashe as FCC’s first signing as the club prepared to join Major League Soccer in 2019, was held to one shot on target, and went 1 of 11 in duels and 0 of 6 in aerials while completing only 13 of 25 passes.
Ndam, who turned 20 earlier this month, now leads defenders this postseason in duels won having gone 19 of 25 through two games. He also sits second in aerial duels won with a mark of 14 of 19 after helping hold the Charleston Battery scoreless in the Red Bulls II’s playoff opener.
The Red Bulls II and Ndam will have another strong challenge this Friday night with the task of trying to contain 2018 USL Golden Boot-winner Cameron Lancaster and Louisville City FC in the Eastern Conference Final. As Ndam’s progression toward the top flight continues, however, Saturday’s performance was one that will have turned more heads as the Red Bulls II continued their bid for a second USL Cup.