COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – Major League Soccer has been known to divide lines among families, but it can also create rivals among even the best of friends.
Such is the case between Colorado Rapids forward Yannick Boli and Portland Timbers defender Larrys Mabiala. Having grown up together on the training grounds at Paris Saint-Germain, the pair is eager to reunite this weekend when their respective clubs face off at 9 p.m. ET Saturday.
“He’s my brother,” Boli said of the Portland defender. “We won the [U-18 Championship] in Ligue 1, we grew up together playing for the academy at Paris Saint-Germain and we both grew from kids into men.”
Colorado has Mabiala to thank, in part, for the services of Boli. With some urging from his former teammate, the French-born Ivorian made the decision to sign with the Rapids back in March.
“He told me that he was looking for another club, and he asked me about MLS,” Mabiala explained. “I told him that it’s a good league, good lifestyle. USA is something good for him and for his kids because I know that he has kids and it wasn’t easy for him to raise them over there [in Russia & China].”
Like brothers, the pair has their own version of a sibling rivalry, which Boli hopes to resume Saturday.
“It’s always been a competition between us,” Boli recalled. “When we were in training, he knew me very well and he was demanding of me, forcing me into trying new skills.”
With their paths set to cross yet again, Boli and Mabiala represent two teams with opposing runs of form. Portland has won five straight entering Saturday’s match, with Mabiala anchoring a defense that has notched three shutouts during its current streak. Conversely, Boli has struggled to find his way in a Rapids side without a win since a 2-0 defeat of a reserve-laden Toronto FC back in April.
Despite recent results, an intense week of practices and his yearning to open his scoring account with the Rapids has Boli looking forward to the weekend.
“I’m hungry and I can’t wait,” Boli said. “This week I’m trying my best to be in good shape to play.”
Additionally, as one of the more experienced players on Colorado’s roster, he’s also urged a sense of responsibility in the team’s locker room.
“We have to change many things, I can’t say specifically, because that’s for us in the locker room,” Boli explained. “But we know what we have to change. The first thing is the mentality. We have to be ready and give our best like it’s our last game. If we do that, I’m sure that this week we’ll get a win. We’re fighting, we have some emotion now and we want to change things.”
So, while he’ll be happy to see his old friend, the primary focus remains scoring goals and getting a result at home.
“He’s a wonderful guy,” smiled Boli. “But I’ll wait until after the game to talk to him.”
The feeling is mutual.
“I’m excited,” Mabiala added. “I’m happy to have a chance to see him again, and play against him.”