By Francisco Dickerson
Soccer California Magazine
BELMONT, Calif. -- He started out like any other youngster - part of the parade of little boys and girls in shiny, brightly colored uniforms scrambling after a soccer ball on a cool fall morning, thrusting his arms into the air when he kicked the ball into the net. But even at an early age, people could tell that Amaechi Igwe had special soccer abilities.
Born in San Mateo in May 1988 and raised in Belmont on the San Francisco Peninsula, Amaechi was surrounded by the game from the beginning. His dad, Tony, played for youth national teams in Nigeria, eventually representing his country in the 1968 Olympics and World Cup qualifying in 1969 and 1973. His older brother, Kelechi,, showed enough talent to earn a scholarship to Santa Clara in 2002. And his sister, Chioma, has been in camp with the U.S. U-19 National Team and is currently a sophomore on the Cal women's team.
By the time Amaechi reached high school, he too had been identified through the CYSA ODP program, reaching the U.S. national pool in his first year. He was the first freshman to play varsity soccer for highly regarded Bellarmine College Prep in San Jose in many years, winning the league title and reaching the Central Coast Section finals his first year. He played his club soccer for the Santa Clara Sporting Ruckus in District II, before joining the U.S. Soccer Residency Program in Bradenton, Fla. In April of 2004. During 2004, Amaechi played in 12 matches with the U.S. U-17 National Team, starting five and scoring three goals.
Heading for Peru
In 2005, Amaechi came into his own. At 6 feet, 165 lbs., he is a big, strong player who has switched from forward/midfielder to an outside back with the capability to attack. He started 29 of 36 games for the U-17s in 2005, scoring five goals and dishing out two assists. At the FIFA U-17 World Championships 2005 in Peru, Amaechi played in all three pool games, starting two. But he missed the U.S. team's quarterfinal match against the Netherlands after picking up two yellow cards in the final pool game against the Ivory Coast - the second yellow on a questionable handling call.
"The ball was played through the air and it was like an instinct," Amaechi said. "I put my hand out and it hit the top of my arm. I didn't think (the referee) would give me a yellow for that, but obviously he did."
Nevertheless, the 2005 FIFA U-17 World Championship was a tremendous experience for the young man, who has come so far from his CYSA District II recreational soccer days on school and park fields on the Peninsula.
What's next for Amaechi? He is playing soccer at Santa Clara University where he enrolled for the winter quarter, although he won't get to play with his brother, who graduates in June. And he hopes to continue to put his world-class talents to good use, representing the U.S. in future matches - perhaps one day in the FIFA World Cup.
It's a long way from Belmont to Lima, Peru or other cities around the world. But it doesn't seem that far when you're chasing a soccer ball ...