Franck Tayou is only 6’1″ but on the field he often looks like a man playing against boys – a giant, a king.
The Cameroon-born forward would be unmistakable playing for Mexican team Soles de Sonora if not for the fact that he closely resembles his teammate and brother Uzi.
The iconic goal scorer just finished his second season with the Soles, much the way the first one ended. Tayou led the league in points and goals again, won the MASL MVP Award again, and lost in the finals to the Baltimore Blast. Again.
While the Soles finished 17-3 for the second straight year, Tayou scored 10 more goals, setting a league record with 57, surpassing the 56 Kraig Chiles scored in 2012/13. Last year Sonora was swept in the Ron Newman Cup finals and this year they won Game 1 in Baltimore and were tied in Game 2, 7-7, when Tayou scored with 18 seconds left to send the sold out Centro de Usos Multiples crowd into a frenzy.
The Soles, it appeared, were about to be champions. Franck ran to the sidelines where Uzi was watching the game in street clothes. He hugged his brother and wept.
“I was thinking about my brother and everything he and I went through,” recalled Tayou. “I was disappointed my brother wasn’t playing the final. I was disappointed that the whole season he didn’t play as much as he should have. I wanted him to come to Sonora to play and win with me, not watch me from the sideline. So in a sense I was playing for both of us. On top of that, the sacrifices I made, especially getting out of my contract with San Antonio FC to finish the season with Sonora. That goal made me feel like it was all worth it. I hugged my brother and told him that I was sorry because I knew he really, really wanted to play.”
But then the unthinkable happened. Right off the kickoff the Blast got the ball deep into Sonora’s end and a mad scramble ended with Adriano Dos Santos tying the game with 11 seconds left. Multiple replays appear to show Dos Santos punching the ball in with his right fist, but there wasn’t much of a protest at the time, as if everyone was in shock from the instant high and instant low that resulted from the two goals just seven seconds apart.
“I couldn’t believe it. I felt like the world collapsed. Everything happened fast. It’s tough to wrap your head around it all,” Tayou recalled.
The game went to overtime and Juan Pereira scored for the Blast, setting up a Game 3 minigame. The Blast won the 15-minute game, 1-0, securing the ninth indoor championship for the city of Baltimore.
Tayou fell to the ground and laid face down with his head in his hands. The Blast’s Travis Pittman and Dos Santos came over to console him. Dos Santos hugged him for a long time. “He said to me, ‘You are a great player man. Don’t settle for this. You have everything to play at the next level. You can play in MLS. Don’t stop here. Don’t get comfortable. You’re still young. Shoot for the stars.’ I appreciate him for that.”
Seeing the replays after the game didn’t add any sting to the loss. “Handball or no it could’ve been prevented,” Tayou said. “We still had overtime and the mini game.”
Tayou’s nickname is King, but in his case he is literally royalty. His grandfather was a King and his father was his successor. “My dad left because he got into politics. He wanted to use his power to make a change but things didn’t work as planned so he had to leave.”
Franck came to the US when he was 16 and credits much of his success to an early mentor. “There’s a man called Patrick Lawrence,” Tayou recollects. “He is probably the best youth soccer coach in America in my opinion. His commitment to developing young players is second to none. Since the day he met my brother and I he never stopped pushing us and believed in us. I quit soccer many times because I felt like there was no opportunity. He is the one who made me believe and keep pushing. Without him I don’t think I would’ve even gone to college. He has been everything to me and my brother. A father, a big brother, an agent, a counselor, but most importantly our number one supporter. I love him for that. And I’m extremely lucky to have someone like him on my side.”
Franck went to college with Uzi at Tacoma Community College and they eventually transferred to West Virginia. In Tacoma the Tayous got their first taste of indoor soccer playing for the Premier Arena Soccer League Tacoma Stars. “Our coach thought it was a good idea to play indoor,” Franck says. “So we did and it was the beginning of the journey.”
Tayou’s first professional indoor season was 2012/13 with the Las Vegas Legends. He made the team straight out of an open combine. “He had the mentality of an outdoor player,” said Legends owner Meir Cohen. “At year two I told him that if he wants he will be the MVP of this league.”
He signed with the expansion Tulsa Revolution, only to be traded back to Las Vegas before the end of the season. The following year Las Vegas traded him to Oxford City of Texas. At the end of that season Rogelio Cota founded the Soles and purchased Tayou’s contract from Oxford City. Uzi played two seasons with Franck in Las Vegas and teamed up with him this year in Sonora after playing for the Blast last season.
“He is an important part of the team and the community,” said Cota. “He is the part we need to complete our dream of a championship.”
The fans in Hermosillo have fallen for Franck. Chants of, “MVP, MVP” can regularly be heard from the stands. Tayou didn’t initially speak Spanish, but was able to quickly fit in. “It was both a shock and a learning experience. The fans embraced me from the start so it was refreshing. When it comes to futbol if you’re talented and humble people tend to respect you quicker.”
Tayou now considers himself fluent in Spanish even though he didn’t take any classes.
His humility comes through even as internet fans of opposing teams say his stats are inflated by the smaller field in Hermosillo, which has been called the Coors Field of the MASL, because of the high scoring games played there. “As far as the critics, I have nothing to say. I’m doing my job and they are doing theirs. I hope they’re having fun.”
He posted a message on the MASL Off the Wall fan group praising Blast goalie William Vanzela, congratulating the Blast and thanking the fans, urging them to all come together to support the sport of indoor soccer.
The soon-to-be 27-year old is now at a crossroads. Tayou is an MASL free agent and is considering another foray into outdoor soccer. He thinks he can make an impact in the USL (he led San Antonio in goals last year with five despite missing 13 games), or even MLS.
“If I do come back to the MASL I’ll go wherever my brother wants to play,” Tayou said.
“My next move needs to be extremely strategic. I need to win a championship.”