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SSFC Spotlight: Theoson-Jordan Siebatcheu soars in Switzerland

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The on-loan striker is turning heads.

BSC Young Boys v Bayer Leverkusen - UEFA Europa League Round Of 32 Leg One Photo by Marcio Machado/Eurasia Sport Images/Getty Images

U.S. Soccer caused a relative stir in 2018 when striker Theoson-Jordan Siebatcheu was invited to join the national team. The French youth international was born in Washington, D.C. and had a direct route into the roster during one of the lowest points in program history. He declined due to a desire to focus on his club career following a recent transfer, but remained open to future call-ups. The 24-year-old is currently on loan at BSC Young Boys, enjoying fantastic form that may demand the attention of Gregg Berhalter.

Partly named after Michael Jordan, his “English-speaking Cameroonian family“ left the United States shortly after his birth, relocating to France. At the age of seven, Siebatcheu joined the Stade de Reims academy, progressing through the various development levels until reaching the reserve team in 2013. He played consistently in the fifth-tier Championnat National 3, scoring twice in his first season. Additionally, his goal in the final helped win the U-19 Championnat National in 2015, the country’s premier youth league.

His first-team debut came against Toulouse, a 23-minute appearance in a 1-0 loss to Toulouse. Siebatcheu would wait six months for his real breakthrough, in the first match of the next season. Shortly after signing his first professional contract and while “wearing a number inscribed with tape on his jersey,” he scored the game winning goal in the 87th minute against Bordeaux.

“It’s been an amazing week,” Siebatcheu told The Ligue 1 Show. “I just signed a contract, and then I came on and scored straight away. It’s great. I try to show the coach that I’m ready to impose myself [on the game] despite my young age, but it’s up to him to decide.”

Although the “top young player” earned consistent playing time in his first full season, Reims was on the way out of Ligue 1. The club finished 2015-2016 in 18th place and was relegated by a single-point margin. While conventional wisdom indicates he would thrive in the second division, it was not the case as he struggled to consistently find the back of the net.

After failing to find a rhythm with Reims, Siebatcheu was loaned to LB Châteauroux in February of 2017, then in the third-tier Championnat National. While some would respond poorly to the demotion, he instead inflicted his will upon the overmatched defenders. With 11 goals in 17 matches, his scoring touch emerged for the first time in his career. His performance helped La Berri win the league and earn promotion to Ligue 2, where the club remains.

“I think it felt good to leave [on loan],” said the then-21-year-old at the conclusion of his brief time in central France. “It allowed me to be more independent and grow in my head… [The coach] told me that there were two kinds of attackers, those who let themselves be destabilized in difficult times and those who knew how to bounce back. Before, I would have tended to think quickly if I didn’t score for one, two or three games. [At Châteauroux], I hardened myself, I kept my confidence.”

The spell at Châteauroux proved to be just what the doctor ordered. Upon returning to Reims, Siebatcheu went on a torrid scoring run, tallying 17 goals and seven assists in 35 Ligue 2 matches. Les rouges et blancs set the league record for points and earned an easy promotion. Bigger clubs were interested in signing the potential star, described as a “buffalo” and a “killer.”

Siebatcheu made a widely reported 12 million euros transfer to Stade Rennais in June of 2018, signing a five-year contract. His first season at the club was somewhat productive after a slow start, with seven goals in 23 total appearances, including a garbage time finish in a Europa League loss to Dynamo Kyiv. He was a key figure in the Coupe de France winning campaign, scoring three times, including a brace in the 2-1 Round of 16 win over Lille. Unfortunately, his season was cut short due to a thigh injury that kept him out of the lineup for three months, his third significant ailment of the season.

His year season at Roazhon Park was a challenge. Siebatcheu scored a single goal in 21 appearances and struggled to regain his prior form, largely kept out of match day squad prior to the pandemic shutdown. While Rennes soared to a third-place finish, the lack of production from the relatively expensive signing was a constant cause for concern. The striker did not fit into manager Julien Stéphan’s plans, with the club “offering him all over the place.”Despite his scoring record in Ligue 2, a permanent move never materialized.

In September, Siebatcheu was loaned to BSC Young Boys in the Swiss Super League, with a reported purchase option of 2.5 million euros. The Bern-based club has dominated Switzerland for the past four seasons and is currently atop the table with an 18-point lead over second place FC Basel. “I feel very good,” he said after signing. “I came so that I could play and regain confidence.”

To say his scoring touch has been revived is an understatement. In 27 matches, Siebatcheu has scored 10 goals, serving as a frequently used back-up to Jean-Pierre Nsame. Analytics writer David Cohen observes above average statistics, with the striker converting a “sustainable” level of headed goals and non-penalty goals per90. Highlights include two finishes in a 2-1 win over then-second place FC St. Gallen and a hat-trick in a 4-1 demolition of FC Zürich. He’s carved out a role as a reliable rotational option, which led to an opportunity that may have a profound effect on his future.

With Nsame suspended for the first leg of the Europa League Round of 32 series against Bayer Leverkusen, Siebatcheu had the opportunity to deliver on the biggest stage of his career and did not disappoint, scoring twice in a 4-3 victory. His first finish was an unmarked header off a corner, straight off the training ground. He remained active in the final third, hard work that eventually clinched the result. The 89th minute match-winner was a fortuitous tap-in after goalkeeper Niklas Lomb’s save rebounded off the post, but his brace put BSC in a solid position to advance against their highly touted Bundesliga opponents.

Some may downplay the rigors of succeeding at a Swiss club, particularly one as dominant as BSC, claiming Siebatcheu has yet to establish a record of consistent production in a top-six league. His performance in the Europa League partially counters that critique and should lead to another chance in a first division, enticing suitors ever in need of reliable conversion. Following the completion of his loan, mildly productive age cohorts Serhou Guirassy and Adrien Hunou would block his return to the Rennes striker rotation. Whether or not BSC triggers the purchase option, a departure is in his future.

Siebatcheu’s career is a series of peaks and valleys, with streaky high volume productivity bookended by long periods of drought. With only slight embellishment, he appears more likely to score several goals in a match than one. The physically imposing target striker is largely dependent on service and exhibits the tendencies of a poacher, but can also serve as a skilled target man in the final third, routinely playing all manner of tricky short-range passes in possession with his back to the defender. His defensive work rate is also adequate, drifting deep into the formation to disrupt the opponent’s possession. While in Ligue 2, his one-on-one dribbling was also noted as strength.

A 2015 interview revealed a passing interest in representing the United States because as the then-teenager expressed, “Why not?” Siebatcheu is also eligible to join Cameroon and was reportedly approached by the African nation in 2018. He played with France’s U-21 team in 2017, scoring against Albania. The striker, sometimes referred to by his Cameroonian name of Pefok, has not received a call-up since. In the past, his stated desire was to represent Les Bleus, although breaking into the deep striker corps of the reigning World Cup champion may be an insurmountable task. At 24 years old and without a senior appearance, the time to examine other options is at hand, without the more smooth on-boarding process of youth international soccer.

“I was proud to be in consideration for the U.S. team and that they wanted me to come,” Siebatcheu told American Soccer Now in January of 2020. “At the time I was a very young professional and I wanted to stay with my club to secure my place in the starting 11. That was my priority at the time… At this moment in time, if the U.S. called me up again, I would be proud and it would likely be different.”

A recent interview with RMC Sport revealed manager Gregg Berhalter made contact in “a more insistent way” during quarantine, with a call-up “seeming imminent.” Siebatcheu still favors France but is interested in the American youth movement. “They started a revival with a lot of young people,” he said. “They are trying to allow a new team to grow. Frankly, I really like it.”

As has become an oft-repeated refrain, the national team has not determined a general depth chart of strikers as the 2022 World Cup is more than a year away. At the moment, Siebatcheu is not in the picture and should not be speculated as an option until accepting an invitation from U.S. Soccer. If he chooses to commit to Berhalter’s project, next summer’s crowded schedule provides the opportunity to make an impact. Regardless of tactics, a physical target striker will always have a place in a 23-player roster, particularly one with a penchant for scoring in bunches.