New York City FC’s newest defender couldn’t be happier in his new surrounds.
Cedric Hountondji became City’s fifth offseason acquisition last week, signing on a free transfer after his contract with Gazelec Ajaccio came to an end.
For the 23-year old, it was a simple decision to swap France for the U.S., not just because of his interest in Major League Soccer and the opportunity to live in New York City, but for the chance to play under one of his heroes.
Hountondji was just four years old when Patrick Vieira lifted the World Cup in France, the country of his birth, but the NYCFC Head Coach’s stature in the game transcends generations and contributed towards Cedric's decision to make the Big Apple home.
The Beninese international told NYCFC.com: “Patrick was an important factor, of course.
“To have a French coach with such a big reputation and so renowned around the world, it helps me and to be under his direction will certainly help me to progress a lot as a player.
“He had a top international career, playing in England for a long time and I followed him a lot, along with players like Marcel Desailly and Lilian Thuram – they were French and played in big clubs internationally and of course they won the World Cup!”
At 6,5’, Hountondji will be one of the tallest players in MLS in 2018 but there’s more to him as a player than his towering stature and aerial prowess.
Claudio Reyna and Vieira both described Cedric as an athletic defender with good feet, who should adapt quickly to NYCFC’s progressive playing style.
“I am a central defender and I can play on the right or on the left,” the 23-year old explained.
“It depends of the coach and where he wants me to play but the position I prefer is as a centre back. This is where I am the most comfortable and I think it’s where I am better.
“Many fans don’t know me so… I am really tall. That’s the first thing. I am quite a physical player. I like duels, go to the contact, win duels. I love winning. Winning games of course but also during training. I like to win. And I quite good on the technical side as well.”
When asked which player in world football he most closely resembles, he said: “I would say Raphael Varane. He is tall, fast. He is solid and physical in duels. I think may style of play is close to his. After him of course… he is playing for Real Madrid and he is in a big, big club. But I think playing-wise my style resembles to his.”
The beautiful game has already taken Hountondji all over the world, not least in his international career where he has declared for his parents’ country, Benin, making his debut earlier this year.
Of course, the next stop will be New York City, a place that Cedric will be visiting for the first time when he arrives in the United States to start up a new chapter in his young career.
It’s a step he’s excited to take.
“It’s the first time I am going to New York City!” Hountondji smiled.
“I have never been there! So, I don’t really know exactly how it will go but I know that it’s an extraordinary city. Some people told me it was amazing. I watched a lot of films and documentaries and features about New York City.
“I think it’s an exciting city and I’m excited to live - I am impatient to be there!”
As for targets for his first season in MLS, Hountondji is uncompromising.
Like his new Head Coach, Cedric is only interested in progressing further than ever before in MLS Cup and challenging for the big prize.
“NYCFC is a club that is progressing year after year,” he added.
“This year, I think the target is to win the title. The club clearly has this ambition. To progress and win the title as soon as possible and that’s my personal objective too. And to help the team as much as possible.
“It’s an honor to be here - I am really happy. I am full of motivation and ready to give everything I have for the club.”
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