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Stanford standout Ubogagu signs with English team

 

Stanford women's soccer standout Chioma Ubogagu, a lifelong fan of Arsenal, has signed a contract with the English club and will be joining the team at the conclusion of the winter quarter.

Ubogagu, a four-time All-Pac-12 selection, was pursued by the club without its knowing that she was such a supporter.


Stanford women's soccer standout Chioma Ubogagu, a lifelong fan of Arsenal, has signed a contract with the English club and will be joining the team at the conclusion of the winter quarter. Photo by stanfordphoto.com
The interest came from Arsenal's new coach Pedro Martinez Losa, who became aware of Ubogagu while an assistant coach with the Western New York Flash of the National Women's Soccer League. Martinez Losa's contacts in the league included former Stanford assistant Jay Cooney, now with New Jersey-based Sky Blue FC.

"Chioma is a player I have known about from my time coaching in the United States and she is a fantastic talent," Martinez Losa said on Arsenal's Web site. "She is very creative, and is able to make goals as well as score them. I think that she will fit in very well with us."

Ubogagu was born in London and moved to Coppell, Texas, at age 3. She still has extended family in London, about 45 minutes from Arsenal's training grounds.

"Honestly, it's God's bigger picture," Ubogagu said. "I'm so grateful that, of all teams, that was the team that had a coach who was familiar with the American game and somehow my name got brought up. Now, I'm leaving in a month. It's crazy."

Ubogagu bypasses a chance to play in the NWSL, having been drafted by Sky Blue FC in the fourth round on Jan. 16.

Ubogagu, a film and media studies major who also is on a pre-med track, scored 10 goals and had seven assists while serving as a captain on a 2014 Stanford team that advanced to the NCAA College Cup semifinals and finished with a 20-2-3 record.

Ubogagu is a dynamic player with great skills, and has the ability to slice through a defense to set up her own shot or find one for others.

She finished her collegiate career at No. 4 on Stanford's all-time assist list (35), and No. 10 all-time in points (89). A four-year starter, she scored 27 goals in 89 matches. But her crowning achievement was her role in Stanford's 2011 NCAA title while being named to the College Cup all-tournament team.

Three weeks ago, Ubogagu flew to England, trained with the club and spent time at the facilities, which are shared with the men's Premier League side, though the women's team plays matches at a smaller stadium.

"I loved every aspect," she said. "I came back and wanted to wait until I saw where I fell with the draft. I just wanted to see what opportunities were on the table. In talking with my family, we felt this was the right fit for what we were trying to do and what we were trying to aspire to in the future. This was the best growth plan."

The contract is for a single season, but depending on her performance, she is hopeful it will be renewed. Arsenal plays in the F.A. Women's Super League and has won 13 domestic league titles and the past two F.A. Cups. Meaningful matches for the coming season begin March 22 with an F.A. Cup contest.

Ubogagu is a citizen of the U.S., England, and Nigeria, and her play could expand her options internationally. It's interesting to note that England has qualified for the 2015 World Cup in Canada, which begins June 5. She played for the United States at the Under-20 World Cup in 2012, and at other youth levels.

Ubogagu developed her passion for Arsenal in early childhood, despite the fact that her grandfather, Nigerian international Austin Eneuke, played for Arsenal's London rival, Tottenham Hotspurs.

As Chioma's father watched the Tottenham-Arsenal derby on TV one day, he commanded Chioma's brother, Okwus, to "cheer for the team in white." Naturally, Okwus chose the team in red: Arsenal. Chioma followed suit.

When the Stanford team had "jersey day" at practice, Chioma brought five Arsenal jerseys for her teammates to wear. It seemed half the Stanford squad was draped in Arsenal gear.

It became a family understanding that for every birthday or Christmas, Chioma would receive the latest Arsenal jersey. One such gift from her godfather was emblazoned with her surname on the back. She still has that jersey in her Stanford apartment.

"Gunners for life," she has been known to say.

"I've been a fan of that team my whole life," she said Thursday. "It was just crazy to think that was a possibility. Now, I get to wear the kit for real. Honestly, it's a dream come true."

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