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American Youth Soccer Player Finds Roots in Nigeria

American Youth Soccer Player Finds Roots in Nigeria
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For one member of the American Under-17 national soccer team participating in the youth World Cup in Nigeria, the tournament has provided the opportunity for a unique homecoming.

At first glance, there is little to distinguish Boyd Okwuonu from the rest of his American teammates as they practice for their next game of the Under-17 World Cup, currently taking place across Nigeria.

But this World Cup is special for the native of Edmond, Oklahoma, in the vast Great Plains region of the United States. Okwuonu was born in the U.S., but his parents are Nigerian. They came to America from Ekiti state 17 years ago, when Okwuonu's mother was about to give birth.

Okwuounu says he had never been to Nigeria, and his last-minute addition to the American roster provided a surprise chance to visit his parents' homeland for the first time.

"It feels great, " said Boyd Okwuonu. "It feels wonderful. I cannot wait. I am going to meet my grandma and my uncle and everything, so it is going to be a great experience for me."

Okwuonu is looking forward to meeting his relatives for the first time. A group is scheduled to arrive from the southern city of Onitsha for an upcoming match.

Even before that reunion, the player says he has enjoyed Nigeria so much that he is ready to consider a permanent move.

"It is a nice place," he said. "You have to get used to it a little bit, but after a while I started to like it a lot. I would not mind living here at all, if my whole family lived here. If everyone came with me that would be wonderful."

Okwuonu says that even though his family is from the southwestern region of Nigeria, locals have given him and his teammates a warm welcome in the northern city of Kano, where the team is based.

"Most of them call me my brother, my son," said Okwuonu. "They're like 'I know you, I know your family.' So it is good."

The 16-year-old Okwuonu says he speaks some Igbo, though it has not helped him much in the north, where Hausa is the predominant local language. Still, he says, his teammates have called on him constantly as a source of local knowledge, for all sorts of questions they have about the things they have seen in Nigeria.

"They ask me what some stuff means, or what kind of food this is, or how come there are goats everywhere - just some funny stuff," he said.

The American team is currently in the midst of group matches in the 24-team youth tournament, which takes place every two years. The team is hoping to improve this year in Nigeria on its best-ever fourth place finish in the competition. The final will be played November 15.