WWU Vikings

Defensive stalwart Ugwoaba finds role in midfield

If you judge Western Washington University’s men’s soccer team based purely on the stats sheet, you may miss one of its most important players — Uche Ugwoaba.

A lineup mainstay who hasn’t been out of the starting 11 since he joined the Vikings in 2012, Ugwoaba has just one goal and one assist in his WWU career. His contributions to the team are more as a creator and defender.

Coach Greg Brisbon recognized a need for change after the Vikings went 1-3-1 in a five-game homestand earlier this season, so he moved Ugwoaba from center back to a midfield position.

“He helps us out a ton because he is so athletic,” Brisbon said in a phone interview. “He has a will to win; he is super competitive in anything he does. He runs until he can’t run anymore, and in the college game that’s important. Midfield was a better fit, he’s athletic and can cover ground.”

The biggest change Ugwoaba has noticed in the team has been improved chemistry, he said in a phone interview. The team has come together and learned each other’s tendencies as the season has progressed.

As for his part, Ugwoaba said he brings “good communication and awareness.” He attributes his frequency of being in the lineup to his hard work.

For Brisbon, it’s more than just his hard work.

“Uche was highly recruited and he has really good technical abilities,” Brisbon said. “He’s a really good person, and that’s important in my recruiting as well. He is one of the better players on the team, that’s part of the reason he starts a lot.”

As for why his contributions are more visible watching the game than just reading the score sheet, Brisbon said Ugwoaba’s selflessness and the nature of his role on the team are the biggest reasons.

“He is one of the better players on the team,” Brisbon said. “That’s part of the reason he starts a lot. I think its really his position (why he doesn’t put up big numbers), he does a lot of the work to create chances for our forwards. He distributes to the forwards and outside backs which allows them to move up the sides.”

Ugwoaba is still in touch with his defensive roots, though. He is often tasked with marking some of the best players on the other team, Brisbon said.

“If there is a great midfielder on the other team, right now that’s Uche’s role — to deny that person their touches,” Brisbon said.