Underdog of the Week: Ugo Uche
Former University of New Hampshire MVP and multiple SoccerViza combine attendee Ugo Uche is this week's Underdog of the Week. Ugo has started an Indiegogo campaign to try to raise money to pursue his professional dream.

By Christopher McCollum

SoccerViza Combine attendee Ugo Uche is choosing a unique route to break into the professional game in Europe: Crowd sourcing.

The congenial striker from the Univerity of New Hampshire has attended two SoccerViza combines in Danbury, Connecticut, the first in March, 2014, followed by November, 2014. Ugo impressed at both but was unable to secure an offer, leaving him to carve his own path through the wilderness. 

Ugo, currently in California trialing with Sacramento FC and the San Jose Earthquakes, has set up an Indiegogo campaign to help raise funds for traveling to Germany, where he has family, in order to knock on doors of Regionalliga and 3.Liga clubs. The Michigan native is stopping at nothing to make his dream come true, which is to one day play for Olympique Lyon in France’s Ligue 1. That dream has been with him since he was 13-years old, visiting Europe for the first time. Gazing on the grandeur of Stade de Gerland made an impact that would stay with him long after returning to Michigan. 

“It propelled my dream and showed me how hard I would have to work to get to the top. It gave me something to work for.” 

To get to the bottom of Ugo’s desire to play professionally, we must start with his father. Born in Nigeria in the years leading up to one of the deadliest civil wars in contemporary history, the odds were against him from the get-go. In an environment that saw around two-million of his countrymen killed, there was little respite and a miniscule chance of succeeding in life beyond childhood. It’s fitting though, in a way. Perhaps in a sense of destiny, perhaps merely as the foreshadowing of a possible future, one of the few moments of peace during this bloody conflict came when the legendary Pele landed in the country to play an exhibition game. The year was 1967, and Santos was touring the world to capitalize on the height of his fame. The 48-hour cease fire between the warring factions provided an opportunity for fans to join together and watch the greatest footballer in peace.

It was at this time that the mothers and fathers of Nigeria’s greatest generation of players were adolescents trying to survive. Perhaps it was the memory of the grand effect of the mesmerizing Pele that inundated the collective consciousness of the next generation of parents that gave birth to Vincent Enyeama, John Obi Mikel, Victor Moses, Peter Odemwingie, Shola Ameobi, Ikechukwu Uche, and another Uche from the United States. 

Against all odds, Ugo’s father succeeded. He left Nigeria to pursue his education, with his beloved American wife who he met while she was teaching in Nigeria. Two Masters Degrees and a PhD later, the motivation to succeed has passed on to Ugo, who left a lasting positive impression on the University of New Hampshire. As the MVP of the soccer team, Ugo also made a run for class president, and placed second in the conference for the fans’ choice award. 

Runs in the NPSL and PDL followed with Detroit City FC and Seacoast United, giving Ugo a taste of the professional game. It was enough to make his passion burn brighter, to know for sure that his dream was to play at as high a level as possible. It’s been a struggle though, somewhat mirroring that of Detroit, the struggling metropolis down the road from Ann Arbor. It’s always a shaky metaphor comparing a person to a city, but the internal strength to succeed when the odds are against you is something that encapsulates the Uche family and is mirrored in the never-say-die city that has seen failure and rust eat its core to near collapse. But the determination of survival is what drives the heart-beat of Detroit just as the determination of success and providing for his family drives the heart-beat of Ugo. 

"Seeing all the jobs lost during the collapse of the auto-industry, and how that effected everything else... There was less money to schools every year, my parents struggled to find work. We had to move from apartment to apartment."

Family interconnectivity is the motivating factor behind Ugo’s will to wake up every day and train, his will to travel across the country and around the world in search of a dream. His parents may have succeeded on their own, but Ugo sees the vulnerability of their profession and regards it as his opportunity to pay back their love and their support, to help them to an early retirement and to live in peace. 

“I want to take care of my mom and dad as they start to get older. I want to be able to go back to Nigeria as well, and start soccer academies and youth development programs so that kids can have the same experience I did growing up here in the U.S.” 

That greater sense of altruism in there beyond simply caring for his family is one that touches upon his roots, a common theme in Ugo’s life. Deeply in touch with the homeland of his father, Ugo wishes to take his experience and success in the game to help the children of Nigeria experience what he has fallen in love with, and to help develop the next generation of Super Eagles. 

Unfortunately, these dreams come down to the simple, unavoidable fact of finances. It may not be possible for the dream to even begin without the help of those who believe in him. This is why Ugo is running his Indiegogo campaign, which ends on January 22. 

If you would like to help Ugo take a step in the direction of his dreams, you can visit
his Indiegogo campaign here to learn more.