Every kid dreams of playing in the World Cup. The stadiums, the lights, the fans. The World’s biggest stage. All eyes on you. While many can dream, few get to live it. Utah Royals FC forward Ifeoma Onumonu (Ify) was one of the few in 2023, earning a call-up to represent Nigeria in Australia/New Zealand.
“It was surreal. You never know, you never think it’s going to happen. Obviously you want it, but you never really know. It’s not really your choice, you have to be selected at the end of the day.”
Born in the United States, Onumonu chose to represent Nigeria after logging minutes as a United States Youth international, and she was not the only one. The 2023 World Cup featured 53 American citizens who represented 13 nations other than the United States. Onumonu was joined by three other American citizens on the Nigerian national team - Michelle Alozie, Toni Payne, and Yewande Balogun.
“It was always my dream to play for Nigeria. I’ve always watched them from afar and when the opportunity arose, when Randy Waldrum and the team called me, they asked if I had ever played for the full U.S. National Team. It was a ‘No’, so although that door never really opened for me on the American side, I thought that this next chapter, this opportunity with Nigeria was just as great. They wanted me on the team and welcomed me with open arms. It was an easy decision since both of my parents are from Nigeria. It’s an honor to represent my home country, my parents’ home country.”
The Super Falcons have qualified for every edition of the tournament since 1991, and remain a powerhouse in Africa, where they have a record nine AFCON titles. Despite their dominance on African soil, the Nigerian national team has struggled at World Cups.
In the most recent edition of the Cup, Nigeria managed to beat host nation Australia and record draws against Canada and the Republic of Ireland. They advanced to the Round of 16, but ultimately fell in heartbreaking fashion to England in a penalty shootout.
“With the England game, we had an opportunity to win that game especially when they went down to 10-men. I think that’s what hurt the most. It was there in our grasp and we just lost it in the last moment where the game could have gone anywhere. At the same time, I was so proud of myself, I was so proud of my team with how far we were able to go. It was probably one of the best moments in my life and I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world”
Despite going home earlier than she wanted, Onumonu remains positive both about her experience at the 2023 World Cup and the future of the Super Falcons.
“Although we still have a ways to go, it’s still a good stepping stone from where we came from. It was so much better than what I imagined. I thought it was going to be stressful, and of course it was stressful, but we were just so together, it didn’t matter. I could have not played a minute and I still would have been happy because it was just that important to see the success of the team.”
As one of the veterans in the Utah Royals’ quickly-forming locker room, Onumonu will look to continue that feeling of team success as the Club matriculates through preseason, with all eyes on the URFC relaunch with the 2024 season/home opener against Chicago Red Stars on Saturday, March 16.
Get your tickets for this historic match at www.UtahRoyalsFC.com/tickets.
Photo credit: Getty Images