JAMIE HILL - Tuesday, January 11, 2011
It is common to see young players emerge late in the U-20 cycle and make an impact on the team and a prime candidate to fill that role in the current incarnation of the squad is Duke defender Sebastien Ibeagha.
Ibeagha, who turns 19 later this month, was a relatively unknown college freshman only a few months ago. He first popped up on the U-20 radar as a last-minute addition to the November camp in Atlanta after Duke made an early exit from the NCAA tournament.
Ibeagha feels fortunate to even be in position to make the qualifying roster.
"[The call up to Atlanta] caught me by surprise," the center back told YA. "It's more lucky than anything. Lucky that I went to college and actually played the whole season and got seen by Coach Rongen when we played BC."
The 6'2" defender seized his opportunity and started both games in the Torneo de las Americas. U-20 coach Thomas Rongen saw enough to bring him back for a December camp in Florida where Ibeagha started and captained the team in one of two friendlies against Canada.
The reward for Ibeagha's progress has been a place in the ongoing U-20 camp in Fort Lauderdale, in which 26 players are competing for 20 places on the team that will compete in the CONCACAF U-20 qualifying tournament in Guatemala in April.
The cadre of central defenders vying for a spot on the team are Ibeagha, Gale Agbossoumonde, Perry Kitchen, Ethan White, and Sacir Hot, while Amobi Okugo and Zarek Valentin have shown they can play center back as well.
Ibeagha's rapid rise to the youth international level has compelled him to think about his future.
"I think about [going pro] a lot now, especially since with the addition of the U-20s," Ibeagha admitted, "I'm getting more exposure than just college. I mean, I want to get there. I don't know exactly when it will happen, but I want to get there as fast as I can, but I still have school and my parents are big on school, so that's still something I care about."
While he remains ambivalent about the tug-of-war between a Duke education and an immediate start to a pro career, he is not unfamiliar with the professional soccer environment. Ibeagha, who was born in Warri, Nigeria but grew up in Texas, is a product of the Houston Dynamo academy.
"It's very, very well-structured, I think," opined Ibeagha of the academy, "Coach Kinnear is at pretty much every game, watching. He sees who he wants and he does invite them to the first team to practice during summer, just to get a feel for it. And it's really good for us players because then we see where we have to be in order to make it or not."
As a product of Houston's academy, the Dynamo retain Ibeagha's MLS rights and he could one day sign with the club directly, just as fellow U-20 central defender and former ACC rival Ethan White did recently with DC United.
Ibeagha has not tipped his hand regarding whether he sees himself eventually signing with MLS or going abroad.
"My main thought is just playing pro sometime," he said diplomatically.
However, the young defender does not deny that MLS holds an added appeal thanks to the return of the reserve league, which promises more playing time for up-and-coming players.
"Yeah, I think [the reserve league] is really big for all these young players," he commented. "You're developing during practice, but you need to play games to really develop. So I think that by playing those games you really will develop and get better faster."
For now, Ibeagha is focused on his international duties with the U-20 team.
"I think we're a very good team, both attacking and defensively," concluded Ibeagha. "We got speed on the outsides, attacking-wise and I think we could go really far. We're a confident bunch of guys."