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Orlando Pride forward Chioma Ubogagu driven to keep scoring

Orlando Pride forward Chioma Ubogagu celebrates after scoring during her club's 1-0 win over the Houston Dash Sunday at Orlando City Stadium. (Jeremy Reper/ISI Photos)

Chioma Ubogagu is on her way to eclipsing her goal-scoring total from her first season with the Orlando Pride.

In 19 appearances (16 starts) last season for the Pride, the forward had four goals and four assists. When she inked her new deal with the Pride in February, she knew she didn’t want to repeat those numbers.

One of her coaches didn’t want her to repeat those numbers, either.

“[Assistant coach] Khano [Smith] said last year I had four goals, four assists and that was the lowest he wanted to see me ever at for years to come,” Ubogagu said. “That’s something that really stuck with me. I worked a lot on my finish in the offseason. I’m just happy I can keep contributing to the team.”

Ubogagu hasn’t tallied her first assist of the 2018 campaign yet, but she’s got three goals through six matches for the Pride (2-2-2, 8 points). She’s one of five players tied for second in goals scored in the NWSL, though she scored her three goals in the fewest minutes (419).

“I think everyone on this team can have an impact,” she said. “I think we’re amazingly talented. That’s something I really wanted to work on from last year to this year, is just being more consistent in the finishing in the final third.”

Ubogagu doesn’t buy into the notion she’s underestimated because of the star power on the Pride. Orlando’s NWSL side has superstars like Marta, Alex Morgan and Sydney Leroux in the attack, but right now Ubogagu is the club’s top goal scorer.

Marta has two goals, one off a free kick and one off a penalty. The only other Pride player with a goal in the run of play is second-year forward Rachel Hill.

“I’m not really caught up in all that and worrying about all that because, like I said, I think everyone on this team is extremely talented,” Ubogagu said. “I think it’s amazing that we have players who have been to the Olympics and the World Cup and the world’s biggest stages, but, you know, those past performances aren’t going to get us three points in this next game.

“I think it’s going to be current form, current performances and what people are bringing to the table now. I think everyone’s doing a good job of bringing their best.”  

She’s had some fun with her goal celebrations, too. For Ubogagu, the celebrations are just an extension of how she typically sings and dances in training and in her personal life.

Against the Houston Dash, she gave a Wakanda salute, channeling the movie “Black Panther,” after putting the Pride up 1-0 in what would be the club’s first win of the season.

After scoring the Pride’s first goal in their 2-0 win over the Chicago Red Stars, she did a dance that resembled something from the online multiplayer video game “Fortnite,” though she says she’s never played the game before.

“It’s just like a dance that’s going around,” she said. “I learned that it was it ‘Fortnite’ afterwards. Just trying to have fun, I don’t know.”

With a laugh, she added, “It’s not like the NFL when these guys are planning like a week ahead. Credit to them, they come up with some epic celebrations.”

Coach Tom Sermanni said he’s not surprised Hill and Ubogagu have had some success so far, even with the return of the players who were away on international duty.  

“We’re the kind of team that’s going to create chances,” Sermanni said after the match against the Red Stars. “Having those other players, it helps the Chis and the Rachel Hills.”

Ubogagu said the club’s recent form is a result of the players having some time to jell. The Pride are unbeaten in their last three matches (2-0-1) after starting the season winless through three matches (0-2-1). Next, Orlando takes on the Utah Royals at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah.

Things have turned around, but for Ubogagu, those first three matches were rough.  She said the coaches’ calm approaches, even when things were looking rough, helped settle her.

“I myself was getting a little worried, I’ll be honest,” she said. “Everything seemed a little bit off, but seeing how calm and cool and collected they were about just being patient about all of it helped me a lot. It seems it’s happening for us.

“I’m just one that looks at things from all angles and sometimes maybe I’m being too harsh in some areas – myself included. That’s the thing about sports. It’s a long journey. The season’s long and having someone experienced like Tom. … I think he knows that and didn’t really feel the pressure when the results weren’t coming at first.”

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