A monthly feature about a U.S. Men’s, Women’s or Youth National Team player whose performance or potential calls for that bright, shining spotlight. This month, it falls to YNT brother-sister combo of Amaechi and Chioma Igwe.
All in the Family
Lisa and Tony Igwe know their daughter and youngest son are talented soccer players. But they never could have imagined the phone calls they got on back-to-back days in early March.
Their only daughter, 17-year-old Chioma, received a call from the U.S. Under-19 Women’s National Team Coordinator Cindy Wolf inviting her into camp for the Philips Lighting Invitational that was to be played at The Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif.
Then, just a day later, their youngest son, 15-year-old Amaechi, received a call from John Hackworth, an assistant coach with the U.S. Under-17 Men’s National Team, inviting him into U.S. Soccer’s Residency Program.
Two kids. Two calls. Two Youth National Teams. All in two days. To say the least, it was a bit of a whirlwind 48 hours for the Igwe family.
“It was pretty amazing,” said Lisa Igwe, admitting that while she’s excited and proud of her children, she’ll miss them when they are away from home. “It was definitely a great week.”
So how does a daughter and a son get called into U.S. National Teams in the same week? It’s all in the family.
Their father, Tony, was born in Jos Plateau, Nigeria, and played for youth national teams beginning when he was just eight years old. In 1968, he represented his country in the Olympic Games in Mexico City and wore the captain’s armband for the Nigerian National Team during its World Cup qualifying tournaments in 1969 and 1973. In what he calls the most memorable moment in his soccer career, Tony also went head-to-head with Pele as the Nigerian National Team played against Santos at the National Stadium in Lagos in 1972.
At 22, Tony moved to the United States and enrolled at the University of San Francisco, where he played from 1975-78, leading the Diamond Dons to the NCAA Division I National Championship all four years and helping them capture two titles (they actually won three, but were later disqualified from the 1978 title).
Since then, Tony has coached at Stanford University, Menlo College, and is now the head coach of the men’s and women’s team at Chabot College. During all this time, he’s also been running camps year-round and his children were always right by his side, soaking up everything like a sponge.
“I babysat the kids and took them with me wherever I went, and they would play soccer,” said Tony. “They were always around soccer.”
It appears to have rubbed off.
Chioma recently led her high school team, Notre Dame-Belmont, to the Central Coast Section championship title last month, setting up the first goal in a 2-1 win over Presentation. This year, she led the league in scoring, was the league MVP, was named a high school All-American and signed to play at the University of California – Berkley.
Amaechi has been playing with older kids his entire life and been involved with his Regional and State ODP Teams. Last year he was the only freshman (there were also no sophomores) on the 2002-03 Bellarmine College Preparatory varsity team that reached the CCS championship. In fact, he is the first and only freshman to ever play on Bellarmine’s varsity squad.
And not to be forgotten is the oldest son, Kelechi, who is playing at Santa Clara and was an integral part of the Broncos run to the Final Four last year in the NCAA Championship.
Chioma was actually called into a U-19 training camp in early March at The Home Depot Center, but said getting invited back into camp for the Philips Lighting Invitational was much more exciting as the U.S. gets a chance to play international competition.
“One of my goals is to play well to get invited back for the World Championship, because it has been one of my dreams to play in a World Cup,” said Chioma.
Chioma said Amaechi was happy for her and would even help her prepare for the camp, but she knew deep down he was hoping for a call of his own.
“He’s been wanting to go (into Residency) for as long as I can remember,” Chioma said. “He was so excited when he got the call, he couldn’t even talk.”
Ameachi probably couldn’t have predicted he’d get Hackworth’s call that day and get invited into U.S. Soccer’s Residency. If for not other reason, because his name says so. In Nigerian, Amaechi literally means, “who can predict tomorrow?”
“They called me two weeks before and told me that I was going to go to a camp in May,” said Amaechi, who will began Residency on April 9. “So it was kind of unexpected. When they called I thought they were going to talk about the camp, but they told me I was going to come into Residency in a few weeks.”
While Amaechi dreams of one day playing for Arsenal – his dad says his favorite player is Thierry Henry, even to the point of shaving his head to have the striker’s hairdo – he is now looking to the near future and accomplishing goals during his time in Residency.
“I’m really excited,” said Amaechi, who has been able to comeback after shattering his ankle last year at a Regional camp. “I’m glad I have another opportunity to improve my game. My first goal is just to get into the starting eleven.”
The soccer success the family has had isn’t lost on Amaechi and Chioma.
“I think we all kind of help each other a lot to achieve,” said Amaechi. “I think that is a big part of our success today.”
“It’s very cool,” added Chioma. “How many families can you say have multiple soccer stars? The hard work does pay off.”
In the coming months, the Igwe household will be a little bit more quiet with two kids off in college and the youngest living in Bradenton, Fla., getting the best soccer training in United States. And while their mom will miss them and said she’s trying not to really think about it, she’s overjoyed they are getting to do something they love.
“It’s a great experience for (them).” Lisa said. “A once-in-a-lifetime chance.”
[Editor’s Note: Chioma played in all four matches of the Philips Invitational, helping the U-19s to second place. She’ll be hoping to make the squad when the U-19s head to Canada to try to qualify for the FIFA U-19 Women’s World Championship and defend their title. Amaechi remains in Residency in Bradenton, where he’ll hope to help the U-17s qualify for the 2005 FIFA U-17 World Championship in Peru.]
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