In honor of black history month it is important to share multiple people that come from different countries and for this feature we honor the contributions of Nigerians and Nigerian-Americans to the beautiful game in Africa and around the world. It is estimated that by 2050, one in five people in Africa will be Nigerian. Currently it is one in four people. The amazing black pioneers of soccer that helped grow the beautiful sport of soccer in the USA and North America come from different parts of the world and their numbers are big. We will feature four players from Nigeria instead of just one this time so that we can share the impact that Nigerians had in development of the sport within North America. To understand a little bit about Nigeria, first and foremost it is important to know that this west African country has the largest population and economy in Africa. Many of the early African immigrants to the USA came from Nigeria and west Africa. Despite the racism however most Nigerians excelled and contributed to many aspects of the American life just like other immigrants from around the world. Most of you may be aware that Howard University won the NCAA titles in 1971 and 1974 but way before that in 1961 Howard was the first ever HBCU school to win a championship in any sport. The legendary coach Ted Chambers was able to recruit players from everywhere so that Howard could become a place where black people from all over the world can come together.
Our First Nigerian featured is former Harvard soccer star Chris Ohiri is also a pioneer of sorts. While Earnest Ikpe played for the Capstone of black education Howard University Ohiri was a standout at the capstone of what used to be for white education which has now become an international institution. Chris Ohiri played soccer for Harvard in the early 1960s, where he was the king of goals as his amazing statistical numbers remain the best evidence of how great he was. It is to be recalled that Ohiri scored eight goals the first time he suited up for Harvard to add to his incredible ability as a scorer before his first season was done, he had scored an incredible 36 times in just the nine games that the University played. At 22 years old he had played in an Olympic qualifier for Nigeria. During these period after the independence of Nigeria, a small number of American universities started an international scholarship program which developed into the African Scholarship Program of American Universities (ASPAU).
Chris Ohiri, was among the first students chosen for the program. Harvard aware he was a good soccer player, had no idea that he was also a national champion in both boxing and the decathlon in Nigeria. Ohiri also had the opportunity to compete in the triple jump at the 1960 Rome Olympics, instead he lead the Green Eagles football/soccer team with two goals even though they did not qualify. Ohiri who was an all around athlete competed in track at Harvard, where he broke the school’s triple jump record for over 40 years until Samyr Laine broke it in 2005.
Despite injuries Chris Ohiri performed at high levels level as he became among the all-time leading goal scorers, not just at Harvard, but in NCAA history. Ohiri averaged 1.47 goals per game in his career — a figure that has been bettered by just a single player in the nation in the last 30 years (Thompson Usiyan of Appalachian State, 1977-80). During his senior season he led the Crimson to its third consecutive Ivy League title. In the clincher, a 3-2 victory at Yale, Ohiri scored twice, thus finishing his career with goals in 13 consecutive games. Only two players in the history of college soccer have had longer scoring streaks. Ohiri was chosen on the All-America team after his senior year while also maintaining a magna cum laude honor at Harvard as he collapsed and passed away while in college at Harvard. Seventeen years after his death, the soccer field at Harvard became Chris Ohiri Field and the inscription on the plaque at the field reads:
Chris Ohiri Field
in affectionate memory of Christian Ludger Ohiri, A.B. 1964, this field is named.Eager scholar — loyal teammate — skilled athlete in soccer, track and field. His college generation remembers here a man generous in friendship who loved God and humankind and faced the conflicts of life with honesty, enthusiasm and courage.
Our second of four black history features from Nigeria was a great student-athlete featured in the 1963 Official Collegiate-Scholastic Soccer Guide as cover picture. A pioneer of sorts Ernest Ikpe, a black Nigerian soccer player from Howard University was one of the few who made it to the USA as a student during those days. Ikpe was Howard’s ‘Iron-Man,” an athlete who had played nearly every minute of every game during Howard’s 1961 and 1962 seasons. An electrical engineering student, he supported himself by working part-time while maintaining a 3.0 G.P.A. In 1962, he would go on to earn All-South and All-American honors. Ikpe was representative of American soccer for that time period as a good student-athlete. He was also representative of the African and international symbolism that American college soccer had become. Ernest Ikpe also coached the Howard University team in 1968 right before Coach Lincoln Phillips took over. He was a church going and kind man. He passed away last spring in New York.
Legend Thompson Usiyan is one of the best Nigerian football (soccer) players to ever play the game. After helping Nigeria get to the finals of the 10th African nations cup Thompson Usiyan found his way to Boone, NC. The Nigerian standout decided to remain in North America in 1976 when he was mesmerized by Canada & the North American life style as he arrived to participate in the 1976 Montreal Olympic Games for his country. During this period Usiyan was contemplating to remain as he wanted to get education and play soccer at the same time. Meanwhile, the Nigerian national team and many African and Arab countries were threatening to boycott the Montreal games due to New Zealand’s white rugby team touring in apartheid South Africa where the white minority government segregated the black majority, denying them their political and economic rights. As a result South Africa was not allowed to participate in any sports events and when other countries like New Zealand attempted to give them recognition, the solidarity around the world became even stronger. A conflict between many nations and the International Olympic Committee was fueled after the IOC ruled that New Zealand would be able to participate in the Montreal Olympics just one day before the commencement. In defiance and also as part of history on this black history month many Africans and blacks and millions of others stood firm against South Africa’s then brutal government. Meanwhile, feeling betrayed, Thompson Usiyan, and his teammates and 25 other countries decided not to take part in the Montreal games.
Scholarship offers from American universities were coming in as he was offered three scholarship from Clemson, Howard and Appalachian State. Clemson coached by the great I. M Ibrahim utilized Nigerian players while Howard was a national champion that had black players from everywhere. Infect in a conversation we had with Coach Lincoln Phillips whom we featured in the past, he had Thompson locked in to come to Howard instead Usiyan decided to go with Appalachian State because he wanted to make a name for himself at a different school.
Located in Boone, North Carolina, Thompson arrived on the campus of Appalachian State in 1977 where he lead the Mountaineers in scoring. He was able to find the back of the net on many occasions as he played some of the most exciting soccer in college from his forward position between the 1977-1980 seasons. Thompson Usiyan is the all-time NCAA leader in career scoring with 255 points, season scoring (180), season goals (46) and career goals (109). Thompson had no idea records were being kept at the time but whether he knew it or not, the rest of the soccer community took notice. He is the only man to ever garner Southern Conference “Player of the Year” honors three times (1977, 79 and 80) helped the Mountaineer program earn some kudos in the NCAA ranks during his time there.
In Southern Conference where Appalachian State played, Usiyan helped the Mountaineers to an astounding 20-0-0 mark during his four years of play there. Meanwhile he lead his school to a great record during his time there as Appalachian beat George Washington in the 1978 NCAA Division I playoffs. Usiyan tallied a remarkable seven goals in the match to help lift the Mountaineers to victory.
Following College he went on to star in Usiyan in the North American Soccer League, Major Indoor Soccer League, American Soccer League and Continental Indoor Soccer League. He played with Montreal’s NASL Le manic for 3 years and for the Tulsa Roughnecks outdoors. Usiyan then moved on to play in the Major Indoor Soccer League for the San Diego Sockers. The Nigerian wonder remained in sunny San Diego where he still lives with his family as a humble man.
Our first women player on this thread is a legend Mercy Akide-Udoh who deserves her own feature but nonetheless a part of the great contribution of Nigerian-Americans to the sport. Former Super Falcons striker, Mercy Akide-Udoh made her debut for the Super Falcons in 1994 and featured for Nigeria at three FIFA Women’s World Cup (1995, 1999, 2003). She was a member of the Super Falcons squad at the Sydney 2000 and Athens 2004 Olympic Games. Akide-Udoh also helped Nigeria’s Super Falcons win three Africa Women’s Cup of Nations titles in 1998, 2000 and 2002. In 2001, she was named the first African Women’s Footballer of the Year and listed in the 1999 and 2004 FIFA World All-Star. Mercy who was a player with lots of experience in the Nigerian women’s league, US College soccer, US W-League, and US WUSA Professional Women’s League is a veteran of 3 FIFA Women’s World Cup tournaments, 2 Olympic Games and 3 African Women Championships. She is one of the hardest working & most dedicated players and currently a coach who had a lot of passion for the game with an excellent credential. We honor Mercy Akide-Udoh on this feature as part of the great Nigerians who added a lot of value to the sport here in the USA and around the world.