August 5 was like any other game for Chioma Ubogagu - one where she laced her boots up, ready to play whatever role head coach Tom Sermanni needed her to play. This one, however, took a twist when the forward was chalked down as the team’s starting left back, lining up in place of regular starter Steph Catley who was given a rest after played 270 strenuous minutes in the Tournament of Nations for Australia.
Despite having never played as an outside back before, Ubogagu held her own, neutralizing attacks from Chicago’s Christen Press and Sofia Huerta throughout the 90 minutes. The Pride would go on to draw that game 1-1, sparking a nine-game unbeaten streak to end the regular season and lead the team to its first playoff berth. Little did Ubogagu know, that game would spark something else: interest from the U.S. Women’s National Team.
After seeing the former Stanford star on the left side, U.S. WNT head coach Jill Ellis gave Ubogagu her first-ever senior team call-up on Tuesday afternoon, naming the forward to the U.S. WNT’s 23-player camp roster that will prepare for two upcoming games against Canada. But Ubogagu won’t feature on the front line. Instead, she’ll train each day as an outside back.
“Jill came to a few of our games during the season and I guess she and Tom had a few conversations about me and that’s how it all started. About a week ago I had a conversation with Jill and she gave me her plans and thoughts about everything, that she might be thinking about playing me in the outside back position. She saw I played there a little bit this season,” Ubogagu recalled. “I just told her I’m am eager to learn and grateful for any opportunity if there is one. Then, a few days after that, I got the official invite. Now I’m just really happy and excited for camp.”
It’s her versatility and technical skill that led Sermanni to the Aug. 5 lineup decision, and why he believes she’ll contribute during the November camp.
“Chi has both the physical and technical attributes required to be a successful player at the elite level in modern day soccer,” Sermanni said. “She has great mobility, the ability to dribble at pace and the capabilities to both create and score goals. In today’s game, those are all things required not just by forwards, but by players on the backline as well.”
Ubogagu started her professional career with Arsenal in England’s Women’s Super League but return to the States in 2016 to play for the Houston Dash. She was later acquired via trade by Orlando, scoring four goals and three assists, the best season yet in her still-blossoming professional career.
“The work ethic and how quickly we bonded - I felt super comfortable in Florida and with the Pride,” Ubogagu said. “When that happens, a lot of things naturally come with it. My confidence was pretty high, I felt relaxed and it went really smooth throughout the season.
“I’m glad I came back to play in this league and so happy to be a member of the Pride.”