As a native of Nigeria, Ugo Ihemelu takes great pride in his African roots. Even though he has been in North America for most of his life, the FC Dallas center back still keeps close tabs on players not just from his home nation, but also those who come from the Dark Continent.
When FCD face reigning UEFA Champions League titleholders Inter Milan at Pizza Hut Park on Thursday, he could have a chance to play against two fellow natives of Africa.
Of course, the headliner is forward Samuel Eto’o, who most recently played for Cameroon in the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa. He’s one player the FCD defender knows more than a little bit about.
“It’s going to be fun,” Ihemelu said. “He’s a talented player. He’s been one of the best players out of Africa for a long time. It’s definitely going to be a challenge but I look forward to it – just getting on the field with him to see how he really is as a player after watching him for so long.”
However, Eto’o isn’t the only player of African descent on the Inter roster. Also in the mix is Nigerian forward Victor Obinna, another name the veteran back knows something about.
“He’s a good player,” Ihemelu said. “He’s fast and skillful. I’m sure he’ll get a lot of playing time since he’s a younger guy. It’s going to be fun to play against him and see how we all match up against their team.”
Ihemuelu’s parents moved to North America when he was young, first going to Canada before settling in the Dallas area. He attended high school in the area and also played college soccer at SMU before being drafted by the Galaxy in 2005.
Being in the Metroplex for so long has helped him realize how big this match is for the local soccer community.
“It’s really big,” Ihemelu said. “Inter just won the European championship last year. That says a lot about [FCD’s] owners. They want to reward the fans here, so they brought in a great team. It should be a good turnout. I’ve got people hitting me up on the phone now trying to get tickets.”