Tom Sermanni needed scoring help to start the season, knowing Alex Morgan would be starting the NWSL season in France. To help an offense that struggled at times in 2016, he added former Arsenal Ladies forward Chioma Ubogagu from the Houston Dash in exchange for the club’s third round pick in the 2018 NWSL College Draft in a late January trade.
Just 24 years old at the time, Ubogagu was coming off a down year in Houston, where she had scored just one goal in 15 appearances. But the potential for goals was waiting there to be unlocked, as Chi — the Gatorade Texas Player of the Year in 2010 — had scored seven goals in 21 appearances with Arsenal and netted 27 times while at Stanford.
Ubogagu appeared in 19 games with Orlando, including 16 starts. Nine of those starts came on the forward line, six were in the midfield and one was on defense — a position she also switched to a few times during games depending on substitution patterns. This provided a lot of versatility and options for Sermanni throughout the year when players were injured.
Chi scored four goals with three assists in her 1,345 minutes during the regular season. She fired 39 shots in 2017, getting 13 of them on frame and finishing fourth on the team in shot attempts. Her passing rate of 70% could have been a bit better but was OK and she was offside nine times — second only to Morgan’s 14. Defensively, she finished with 14 clearances and won 79% of her tackles. She both gave and received 11 fouls on the year and earned one yellow card.
She also started and played 73 minutes in the Pride’s playoff match against the Thorns, attempting two shots — neither on target — and completing 62% of her passes and winning three tackles.
Chi’s best game of the year came on a rainy night in early September when the Pride hosted the Boston Breakers. Orlando, largely due to Ubogagu’s work that evening, broke open a close game and won 4-2 on Sept. 2 — the club’s fifth consecutive win. Rachel Hill had staked the Pride to a 2-0 lead at the break but Rosie White helped Boston claw back into it with a goal just after the restart. Ubogagu then helped turn the tide back in Orlando’s favor. First, she sent a perfect first-touch pass behind the defense to a streaking Marta, who made it 3-1 in the 67th minute.
Just 10 minutes later, Chi put the game away by scoring one of her own on a great individual effort. Taking the ball away in the attacking half, Ubogagu streaked down the left side of the penalty area and slotted inside the back post to make it 4-1 on the way to the eventual 4-2 win.
It was an outstanding night for Ubogagu, who played 84 minutes, fired two shots (one on target), passed at a rate of 74% and both committed and drew one foul.
2017 Final Grade
The Mane Land staff gave Chi a composite season grade of 6.5. While she definitely helped nearly every position group over the course of the season, there are still too many shots missing the target from good positions. She also still needs to read the game a bit better, as she had several opportunities throughout the year to play Marta or Morgan in cleanly but opted instead to shoot or pull the ball back. These chipped away at her overall grade a bit, but she still had a good season overall.
Following the 2017 season, Sermanni and company offered Ubogagu a new contract. She was one of four players — Dani Weatherholt, Steph Catley and Alanna Kennedy are the others — to garner a new contract offer. Should Ubogagu be re-signed, she’ll likely be used next year a lot like she was in 2017. She provides speed down the wing on the forward line in a 4-3-3, or in the attacking midfield in a 4-2-3-1, so she complements her older but more lethal teammates up front, Morgan and Marta. She can also fill in at fullback, which earned her a call-up to the USWNT camp for the final friendlies even though she didn’t see the field for Jill Ellis’ team.