Just Call Her Chee
Chioma Ubogagu already has the most exotic and difficult-to-pronounce name on the U.S. Under-20 Women’s National Team.
Give it a try…
After that mouthful, does she really need any more names?
Apparently she does, and the players and staff (especially assistant coach Jaime Frias) of the U.S. U-20s have come up with a plethora of nicknames for the speedy winger out of Coppell, Texas.
For some reason, most are related to food, while others evoke Star Wars and a certain Manchester United striker.
Chee-ps and Salsa
Chee and Crumpets
Chee-burger and Fries
Ubogagu’s parents were born in Nigeria and immigrated to London, England, where the work was more plentiful and stable. Her mom, Tina, is a nurse and her dad, Aloy, is a social worker. In London they had a daughter and named her Chioma, meaning “God’s presence” in the native language of the Igbo people, an ethnic group primarily located in southeastern Nigeria.
When Chioma was three, her family moved to Texas, where her mom had a friend who would set her up with a job. Fortunately for Chioma, she just happened to be dropped into one of the world’s capital for both football and girls’ fútbol, as the Dallas area has long been a hotbed for producing top female players. She started playing soccer with her older brothers, Oggy and Okwuse, soon after touching down in the Lone Star state and early on refused to play with dolls. The soccer ball was her toy.
Ubogagu has been to Nigeria several times -- she still has extended family there – and has been both awed by the poverty and impressed by the resilience of the people.
“I wish other people could see the country,” said Ubogagu. “People think when I go I am just going on safari or seeing lions. Some villages are really sad, but my family lives in relative comfort so it’s two extremes. There doesn’t seem to be much of a middle class.”
The USA’s Women’s World Cup semifinal match will be a bit of different experience for Ubogagu as the Americans will take on the country of her parents’ birth. While she bleeds red, white and blue, she admits it will be special to take on the Super Falconets of Nigeria.
“It’s definitely different unique to get this opportunity as life takes some amazing turns,” said Ubogagu. “Who knows? I maybe could have been playing on that team. I know I’m probably the only on our team who can pronounce all their names. But I’m excited. They are an excellent team and it should be a lot of fun.”
Ham and Swiss on Chee-batta
Earlier this year, Ubogagu scored the winning goal in the championship game of CONCACAF qualifying tournament, giving the U.S. a dramatic late game come-from-behind win against Canada. But says that the goal against North Korea was an experience and feeling she will never forget.
“My defender kind of cheated toward the cross so I held my run a bit and drifted toward the back post,” said Ubogagu. “I got my head on it, saw it go in, and then I went crazy. I got a little dizzy and shaky and everyone rushed to me. It was awesome.”
Like for all the young players on the U.S. team, the World Cup has been both eye-opening and educational on and off the field.
“The World Cup has been a great experience on so many levels,” said Ubogagu. “It’s the highest level for players our age, and seeing how each country plays a different style of soccer has been amazing. In college, all the teams are pretty much similar, but here teams are more versatile and play styles that reflect their cultures. We have to be at our best and do what we do best for every minute of every game.”
For all her nicknames, Ubogagu admits that she does have a favorite. U.S. teammate Cari Roccaro calls her “Ooog.”
“She’ll probably read this and find out that not only don’t I mind it but I like it, which I have never admitted to her,” said Ubogagu. “But she’s the only one that can call me that!”
With a perpetual smile on her face and a zest for life, Ubogagu laughs along with everyone else when the nicknames start coming. But at the end of this tournament, there’s just one that she’d like to be called…Chee-ampion.