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Hucles Knows Nigeria

The U.S. Women’s National Team faces African champion Nigeria in its second first-round game on Thursday, Sept. 25, at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia. U.S. midfielder Angela Hucles will look at the match with just a little different slant than her teammates. You see, Hucles has some insight into the Nigerian National Team that perhaps no other player in the entire Women’s World Cup, aside from the Super Falcons themselves, is privy too. In 2000, prior to the start of the WUSA, Hucles played with the Hampton Roads Piranhas out of her hometown of Virginia Beach, Va., in the W-League along with Mercy Akide, Florence Omagbemi and Patience Avre, three of the best players on Nigeria’s National Team, who just also happened to be her roommates.

"It was definitely a fun experience, an interesting cultural experience," said Hucles. "One night we had dinner and they cooked Nigerian food. It was a very family-oriented style dinner. It was fun, but I didn’t really eat too much Nigerian food after that. It was just too spicy and I wasn’t quite sure what I was eating. Patience always cooked for Mercy and Flo because she was the youngest one."

Hucles says she was impressed by how the three young women from a totally different world coped the culture shock of Virginia Beach.

"They lived very regimented lives and were very spiritual people, they prayed a lot," said Hucles "My mom was excited because she though they might get her daughter to church, but that really didn’t happen."

Omagbemi and Akide come from the same tribe and spoke the same dialect, but Hucles did not learn any Nigerian words during her time with the African trio.

"They are just very pleasant people," said Hucles. "Mercy was the loud funny one and she has a great laugh. Florence was the calm, mellow one. She was really laid back one, but very organized, sort of like the mom. Patience was the wild crazy one, but they all had this intensity and focus about them, which I know helped them adjust to America."

Hucles served as the chauffeur for the Nigerians, taking them to the grocery store, the doctor and even to the tattoo parlor, where Akide and Omagbemi got some identical ink on their shoulders in the form of a cross. The four bonded during that summer, one night putting on reggae music and dancing and singing in their living room.

To this day, Hucles remains impressed about the Nigerians zest for life and how they did not take for granted the opportunities they were getting in the USA.

"They all were in college at a Division III school and very much interested in getting a degree," said Hucles. "But during the summer, they were doing as many clinics as possible trying to make as much money as they could so they could to send some back to their families in their Nigeria. I was just a kid having fun during the summer. It was a totally different experience for me."

Akide, the 2001 African Female Player of the Year, is still mobbed in Lagos, or in her hometown of Port Harcourt, when she is recognized in public. After Hampton Roads, Akide would go on to play two seasons for the San Diego Spirit while Omagbemi would play for the Boston Breakers and the Spirit. This past summer, both returned to the Piranhas, where they helped the team win the W-League title as Akide scored a "golden goal" in the title match.

"Mercy used to tell me, ‘I am like the Mia Hamm of Nigeria,’" said Hucles. "And I’m sure she is. They were just totally fun girls. It was a neat experience to live with them."

The former roomies will be on opposite sides tomorrow night in what is sure to be a heated match as Nigeria fights for its tournament survival.

"They would always talk about how different it was here in America," said Hucles. "And how the different and so much better the opportunities are for the American girls and how they don’t realize how fortunate they are. I know they will be extremely motivated to prove themselves in the game."