Creating the narrative: Ubogagu’s journey back to England
Ubogagu scored four goals for the Pride in 2018
Chioma Ubogagu has been with the Pride since 2017. (Photo credit: Jeremy Reper/isiphotos.com)
Chioma Ubogagu has been with the Pride since 2017. (Photo credit: Jeremy Reper/isiphotos.com)

Orlando Pride forward Chioma Ubogagu strives to be a storyteller on the pitch. She’s left-footed, quick, and loves the creative freedom she gets from the ball at her foot.

Ubogagu was born in England to Nigerian parents, where football and Arsenal—she quickly learned—were a way of life. When she was young, her parents separated. She moved with her mother to Dallas, Texas,  though she still returned to England once a year to visit her father and see other family. But her life, as she knew it, was in Texas.

“When I was four years old I was a part of my first soccer team in Texas, but I’d say I’ve been attempting to play since I was three,” Ubogagu told NWSL Media over the phone on Monday. “I copied what my brothers did growing up. They played soccer and they are also why I became an Arsenal fan, why I played FIFA, and PlayStation. ”

While Ubogagu was born in England, her upbringing and evolution through the game happened in the United States. She got involved in the youth national team system early on, and played for the Under-18, Under-20, and Under-23 teams. A top recruit at Stanford, the Cardinal won the Women’s College Cup her freshman year in 2011, and she was named the Pac-12 Freshman of the Year. Sky Blue FC liked what they saw, and picked Ubogagu in the 2015 NWSL College Draft even though she already was looking at a potential return to England.

Arsenal was a way of life, and Arsenal it would be. Ubogagu made her professional debut in 2015 and scored Arsenal’s only goal of the match in a draw against Notts County.

But soccer in the United States came knocking once again. Ubogagu went back to Texas, and signed with the Houston Dash in 2016 following her year with the Gunners. A year later, Houston traded her to the Orlando Pride  By November of 2017, Ubogagu had earned her first call-up to the U.S. women’s national team for a set of friendlies against Canada, but she didn’t dress for either match, let alone earn a cap.

Thanks to where she was born and her parents, Ubogagu could represent Nigeria, England or the United States. While the entirety of her international play so far had been for America, she decided last year that she would represent England.

“I think the best way for me to explain it is I think everything happens for a reason,” Ubogagu said about her decision to play for England, “And it was this feeling I had [when I was playing for the U.S.] that didn’t quite feel like it was for me.”

During the 2018 NWSL season, Ubogagu expressed her interest in playing for the Lionesses to former Pride head coach Tom Sermanni.

“I told him that I think that I want to play for England and asked him what his thoughts were. He then started the conversation with Phil [Neville].” It didn’t take her long to get on England’s radar. One year after her USWNT call-up, she was called in by the Lionesses for a set of friendlies against Sweden and Austria.

“That first training camp with England, there was no doubt in my head that I wasn’t supposed to be there and try and make the World Cup team. This time, it was a feeling that just felt so right.”

Ubogagu made her international debut against Austria on November 8, 2018. And just like her first professional appearance, the scene couldn’t have been more perfect for her first international goal.

MORE | Chioma Ubogagu called up by England for November friendlies

The cap was earned, the jersey fit. But as 2019 rolled around, Ubogagu had doubts all over again when she was left off England’s SheBelieves Cup roster.

“I had to have a pretty tough conversation with [Phil]. He put me on standby, you know if something happened or if someone wasn’t able to go then I would get to go to the tournament,” Ubogagu said. “I had come home from Australia (Ubogagu spent most the NWSL offseason on a loan to Brisbane Roar in the W-League) at this point. I was training and stuff, so when I had to have that conversation with him I was really disappointed, really sad, and I didn’t sleep that night.”

Despite the restless night, Ubogagu knew that she couldn’t just give up. “I started just getting up at 4 a.m. to train. I guess I could have chilled and taken a few days off, but I wanted to train my anger, and the craziest part is that two to three days later I got a call.”

Ubogagu was called in as a replacement player for Jill Scott who withdrew from the tournament to prepare her full fitness ahead of the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup.

MORE | England wins SheBelieves Cup

“What’s meant for you won’t miss you,” Ubogagu quoted. Her voice was full of pride—it’s a saying that her mom told her, back when Ubogagu had called after missing the initial roster for the SheBelieves Cup.

“My mom is my ultimate hero. She is the strongest woman I know, just crazy smart and insanely hard working. She’s my rock. Every time I’m going through something I’m blowing up her phone until she answers and that’s what I did. Her advice to me was like, ‘Now is the time you need to be consistent, you are x-days away from the World Cup.’”

“Football is an up and down journey and you can’t get too high on the highs and too low on the lows,” Ubogagu said and is now in the full swing of preseason in Orlando for the Pride’s preseason. She is also learning for the first time how to balance international duty and responsibilities.

“The amazing part is that they can intertwine if I’m controlling what I can control at the club level and putting my efforts in fully at training. It’s going to translate to the international level.”

Ubogagu’s still working on writing her story. But, if you ask her, she’s in complete control of the narrative.

“In soccer, when I have the ball, I like having the creativity that doesn’t allow for people to know what I’m going to do. I’m in control and I’ve always loved that freedom.”

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