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SSFC Spotlight: Emmanuel Sabbi makes senior debut at January camp

The attacker bounced back from injury.

Colombia v United States Photo by John Dorton/ISI Photos/Getty Images

The United States Men’s National Team’s January camp was an opportunity to assess the level of players within the program and compete in a few friendlies ahead of a busy slate. This included bringing former youth internationals back into the fold, including those who have been performing well overseas. Having recently overcome a long-term injury, Emmanuel Sabbi was a surprising but not completely unexpected name on the roster. The 25-year-old Odense Boldklub attacker has been scoring at a regular clip for years and could be on the verge of a transfer to a bigger league.

Born in Vicenza, Italy, Sabbi grew up in Ohio and competed with Blast FC, Ohio Premier Soccer, and Chicago Magic, winning the US Youth Soccer National Championship with the second club. Despite committing to the Akron University soccer program, the attacker moved abroad, joining Las Palmas, located in the Canary Islands, hoping to “adjust to the European style of play.” However, visa issues caused a significant delay and forced him to train with Columbus Crew SC, at the time managed by Gregg Berhalter.

After a year, Sabbi signed a three-year contract with Danish side Hobro IK. “Emmanuel Sabbi has shown that he is an explosive striker with individual skills, but he is also a young striker who just needs to get used to the approach here,” said then-manager Thomas Thomasberg. “We believe that we can move him forward, and if we succeed in doing so, he will probably become an exciting acquaintance in the future.”

In his first Superliga season, Sabbi bounced between the reserve and senior levels, making 20 first-team appearances, including an extended run during the playoffs. The following season, his role expanded with 31 senior appearances across all competitions. He contributed eight goals and five assists, including three crucial finishes that helped the club avoid relegation.

During the 2019-20 season, Sabbi continued his scoring ways, finding the back of the net seven times. However, the club was unable to avoid relegation, falling in the two-leg playoff series to Lyngby by a 4-3 margin. His play began attracting a variety of suitors, including Dynamo Dresden, FC Midtjylland, Brøndby IF, Beşiktaş, and an unnamed French outfit. With his Hobro tenure set to expire, he signed a pre-contract for four years with Odense, allowing him to stay in the top division of Denmark and reportedly increasing his salary by a significant margin. His desire was to “leave as a top player in the Danish league,” as opposed to someone who merely “played in the Danish league.”

Enjoying the switch in tactics to a more “attack-oriented style,” his production continued at a steady rate at the new club, with six goals and four assists in 32 appearances during his first season. “The transition was smooth, though I would admit that the club comes with expectations,” Sabbi told American Soccer Now. “In Hobro, I was used to making deep runs and using my speed and lots of defending, which definitely has helped get my game to the next level. Here at OB, we play behind the ball, find holes, read the game, positioning and transitioning both offensive and defensive... I have seen a lot of improvements in my game.”

The following year, Sabbi continued to perform well, including scoring four times as Odense reached the final of the Danish Cup. He was voted the club’s Player of the Month for August, dominating various statistical categories and brimming with confidence under the progressive attacking tactics. Sporting Director Björn Wesström listed him as someone with the “greatest sales potential,” although there was no mandate for a transfer.

During the offseason, Sabbi picked up an injury but then suffered a second, longer-term medical issue following his return to training in August that caused him to miss the first 13 matches. After a rehabilitation period, he showed his old prowess, contributing two finishes and two assists in the most recent fixtures for Odense. Prior to the World Cup break, his buzzing performance against AC Horsens included involvement in all three of his team’s goals, an 83% passing percentage, and winning 60% of aerial duels, the sort of display that attracts broader interest from a variety of parties.

At the international level, Sabbi is eligible to represent the United States, Ghana through his parents, and Italy. He was a regular in the youth ranks with the former program, playing in three matches at the 2017 CONCACAF U-20 Championship and scoring a key goal in the classification stage during the title-winning run. At the ensuing U-20 World Cup, the attacker featured twice, including during the quarterfinal loss to Venezuela. Prior to January camp, his most recent call-up was with the U-23 squad in 2019, am absence that may have been cause to consider suiting up for the Black Stars. However, the attacker made his debut last month, playing 25 minutes in the scoreless draw with Colombia.

A versatile and “explosive” forward, Sabbi can line up on both wings and at striker, thriving in one-on-one situations. Half Spaces describes him as “fairly tricky” and a “willing defender” who “reads the game well.” He is a strong counter-attacker, maintaining control while sprinting at full speed and possessing the presence of mind to pick out teammates with a pass. Despite being listed at 5’9”, a surprising number of his finishes come from leaping to claim a cross, floating into the back post unnoticed, or pouncing on a loose ball in front of the net.

“The first thing you notice about him is how quick he is with the ball, something he takes full advantage of when dribbling past opponents,” writes Juan Gafas for BabaGol. “He has both quick feet to take on opponents in tight situations and good pace to take them [on] when having space. He has a good work rate too, making use of his athletic attributes to track back and win the ball for his side… He can and does play as a forward sometimes, but I think he does better when playing wide using his pace and helping out the [defense] if needed.”

With the start of a new World Cup cycle, Sabbi has the opportunity to work his way into the rotation. Dynamic wingers are always a welcome addition to the depth chart, particularly those who score goals. With continued strong performances in Denmark, he could put himself into contention for the Gold Cup roster and build momentum heading into the summer transfer window.