Under African Skies: Chivas duo straddle Africa, US
MLSsoccer.com's "Under African Skies" series is a look at what the
first World Cup held on the African continent means to Major League
Soccer's African players. Today we feature Chukwudi Chijindu, who has Nigerian roots, and Michael Lahoud, who was born in Sierra Leone.
CARSON, Calif. — In fewer than two weeks, the eyes of the world will turn to South Africa for the World Cup. And while most of the focus will be on soccer, Chivas USA players Michael Lahoud and Chukwudi Chijindu are hoping that the continent itself gets a little attention, too.
Lahoud was born in Freetown, Sierra Leone, while Chijindu’s parents are both natives of Nigeria. Both maintain close ties to Africa and are optimistic about what the World Cup will do for the culture of and interest in their family’s homeland.
“I think it’s an exciting thing for Africans,” said Chijindu. “The continent doesn’t get portrayed as well as it should in many cases, and this is a chance for everyone in the world to see the beauty that Africa has to offer.”
The World Cup will be the first held on African soil. And after much speculation in the press over the course of the past year about whether or not South Africa would be ready in time to host the tournament, it appears that all is in order ahead of the June 11 tournament opener.
“This World Cup is really special,” said Lahoud. “It shows the progress that the African continent as a whole has made. I think there’s a great sense of unity among the African nations. There’s a lot of excitement about having such a big competition in their homeland.”
Lahoud spent the first three years of his life in Freetown, Sierra Leone’s coastal capital, before moving to Virginia. While he considers himself American, he continues to foster his African heritage.
“I love Sierra Leone because it’s my birthplace, but I feel indebted to the United States because of the opportunities I’ve gotten here to pursue my dreams as a professional athlete,” said Lahoud. “I’m really proud to be American, but I’ll never forget where I came from.”
Chukwudi Chijindu calls himself a "Nigerian kid who grew up in California." He was raised in Fontana, Calif., by two parents whose native tongue was Igbo, one of the many languages spoken in Nigeria.
“I’d go to school and be with my American friends and then come home and it was more of a Nigerian feel,” said Chijindu. “It wasn’t necessarily one culture or the other; both influenced me a lot.”
Unlike Sierra Leone, Chijindu’s Nigeria qualified for the World Cup. The Super Eagles are in Group B alongside Argentina, Greece and South Korea.
“I think it’s an underrated group,” said Chijindu. “Everything will come down to how we do in that opening game against Argentina. The opening game matters in every group, but for us, confidence-wise, it will do a lot for us if we can get a win or even a draw.”
Both Chijindu and Lahoud would be eligible to play for the national sides of their respective African countries as well as the U.S. national team. Neither has been contacted about playing on the international level, but both admit that they would have difficulty making a choice if such a call ever came through.
“To be honest, that decision would be made when the time comes,” said Chijindu of choosing between playing for Nigeria and playing for the U.S. “I’m of Nigerian descent, and I feel Nigerian just as much as I feel American. If that choice ever comes, I’d have to really weigh my options. But I would want to play for either country.”
Lahoud echoed Chijindu’s sentiments, agreeing with the conflict that one would feel in choosing one national team over the other.
“It’s a tough one, to be honest,” said Lahoud. “I know my whole family would be overjoyed if I played for Sierra Leone, but there are other people who are really close to me, people who have helped me get to where I’m at right now, who would be really happy to see me play for the United States.”
Both Lahoud and Chijindu are adamant about the progress they’d need to make before any possible international appearance, and for now, each is focused on his career at Chivas USA and helping the team climb out of the Western Conference cellar.
More than anything, they’re excited about seeing the World Cup finally land in Africa.
“I think it’s also going to show that a lot of stereotypes about Africa aren’t true,” said Chijindu. “It’s one of the most beautiful places in the world and everything that the movies depict is pretty unrealistic. Hopefully, the cameras at the World Cup will show people all the beautiful things that Africa has to offer.”