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Dominic Oduro: Poised to join Chicago Fire U.S. Open Cup History

Chicago's Dominic Oduro looms large in preparations for tonight's final
Chicago's Dominic Oduro looms large in preparations for tonight's final

Toward the very beginning of the season, Chicago Fire team writer Jeff Crandall asked myself, Guillermo Rivera, Sam Stejskal, and Orrin Schwarz to predict the next player who would hit double digits in goals scored in one season for the Chicago Fire for the first time since 2004.  Despite the fact that Dominic Oduro was traded to the Fire mere hours before this conversation, none of us predicted Oduro even as a throwaway.  There was little reason to. Now, all of Chicago Fire Country is loving what Oduro brings to the team.  On the morning of the U.S. Open Cup Final where the Ghanaian forward significantly boosts Chicago's chances at grabbing that 5th U.S. Open Cup title, we look back at Oduro's life and career with some insight from the man himself.

Dominic Oduro was born in Accra, Ghana. Accra was first settled in the 1400s and has grown to almost 4 million people in its metropolitan area. In addition to being Ghana's economic and political capital, it is Africa's 11th largest city behind Durban and Cape Town in South Africa and just above Nairobi, Kenya. Oduro says he gravitated towards soccer as a kid because it is very popular back home. He came to realize how much faster he was than everyone else when his coaches and friends encouraged him to chase balls played over the top to him. Oduro's family sent him to Prempeh College and University of Ghana for higher education. He played soccer but received only minor amounts of scholarship funds towards his expensive tuition.  When an American college made an offer, it changed his life. 

"It was not really a decision, it was more like a gift. I was scouted by Virginia Commonwealth to come over and play. Back home my parents and I were struggling to pay my fees for my school. In Africa if you have the opportunity to come to the United States on a scholarship it's more like a dream come true. It's like just being offered a Ferrari or just having everything laid out on a silver platter. It was something I couldn't refuse because I would also be getting a free education. It was a blessing for my whole family."

VCU's investment in Dominic Oduro paid off big time as he scored 18 goals in 41 games and was named the 2004 Colonial Athletic Association Player of the Year. His best game was no doubt when he scored 4 goals in a 5-2 victory over a North Carolina squad currently ranked No. 5 at the time. Thanks to a strong collegiate performance, FC Dallas selected him with the 22nd pick overall in the 2006 MLS SuperDraft.

MLS Career Begins

Dallas would use him as a supersub for three years playing him in 70 games but starting him in just 22. To give you some context, Oduro will surpass his entire minute total with FC Dallas in this one season with Chicago as long as he plays significant minutes in two of Chicago's three remaining games this season. FC Dallas decided they weren't getting enough after three years and shipped the Ghanaian forward to New York in exchange for Dave van den Bergh going to the heart of Texas along with a swap of 'to be used later draft picks'.

Primed to play in the Big Apple, Oduro was traded two months into the 2009 season. He only saw 3 games worth of action with the Red Bulls. New York would end the 2009 season with just 21 points and 11 of those points came in their last 8 games.  It was odd they couldn't find a good spot on a bad team for a player they traded a decent amount for.  Oduro finished the 2009 season with Houston contributing 1 goal and 4 assists in a similar supersub role he played in FC Dallas (16 games played, 7 games started). After 4 MLS seasons and 3 MLS teams, Oduro had scored 10 goals and provided 8 assists in exactly 3,400 minutes of play.

Oduro was 24 years old on opening day of 2010. Houston's head coach Dominic Kinnear was reeling from attempts to replace Ricardo Clark and Stuart Holden. It made perfect sense to roll the dice on the young Ghanaian in a starting position. Oduro continued with modest success starting the first 11 games and giving back 2 goals and 3 assists. Brian Ching and Cam Weaver returned from injuries in early June and the Dynamo started using Joseph Ngwenya more regularly in late June after bringing him back in May. Pushed into another substitute role, Oduro didn't start regularly again until the last ten games of the season when he started 8 of them. He finished the last six games of the season with 3 goals and 1 assist but Dynamo fans remained unimpressed. Unhappy with his situation in Houston, Oduro tried to latch on with teams in Europe in the off-season. Nothing doing so he went on trial with a team in Israel. That fell apart and on March 2, 2011, the Houston Dynamo announced they had re-signed Dominic Oduro.  However, Oduro found himself traded early in the season yet again after missing an easy wide-open net goal and being massively booed by the Dynamo home crowd.  The Houston front office decided they made a mistake in re-signing Oduro.  The Chicago Fire were willing to take Oduro off their hands.

Chicago Fire

In order to acquire Dominic Oduro, the Fire had to give up a fan favorite Calen Carr. Carr was a 2006 U.S. Open Cup hero but injuries cut into Carr's effectiveness. Oduro made 5 straight substitute appearances the lead to 1 goal and 1 assist in a combined 87 minutes of play. His goal came in the 89th minute against the Los Angeles Galaxy in what had been a downright depressing 2-0 game on the return of Chicago coming back to Toyota Park after losses to Seattle and Portland. Oduro brought a spark of life that picked up the rest of the team and suddenly there was pressure on LA. Sitting in the crowd, I believed the Fire had a very good chance to get one point with a draw suddenly. LA's defender Leonardo fell to the ground in extra time on a soft play so many doubted his sincerity... including Oduro who went over and tried to lift him up. Oduro's actions earned him a yellow card and it turns out that Leonardo was out for the season but Chicago fans got their first look at the hunger Oduro has for winning.

With Oduro's old team the Dynamo coming to town for the next match, soon to be ex-Fire head coach Carlos de los Cobos gave Oduro his first start. In a rare CDLC 4-4-2 formation, Oduro started up top with Diego Chaves but didn't cause any damage. However, Oduro has been a fixture in the starting lineup ever since. Barring a health issue, Oduro will make his 27th consecutive start when FC Dallas takes on the Fire on October 12th.  Only half of it has been as a forward.

Patrick Nyarko hit the injury list with concussion issues soon after the Houston game. Oduro was forced to move out to the right wing and CDLC kept his 4-1-4-1 formation going until he was fired in late May. Frank Klopas came out using two forwards when Nyarko returned to health. A new problem on the wing arrived: Marco Pappa was gone for almost all of June playing for Guatemala in the CONCACAF Gold Cup. Chicago could not afford to move Oduro off the wing. The drop off after him was Corben Bone or Bratislav Ristic.  It was Oduro still on the right and Nyarko over to the left.

Marco Pappa returned to the starting lineup on June 26 and it's no coincidence Oduro has been one of the strikers since. In a traditional 4-4-2, Nyarko and Pappa can take the wings. Moving Oduro to a forward position has not surprisingly increased his shots and his shots on goal. The increase is 2.7 shots and 1.7 shots on goal a game compared to 2.2 shots and 0.7 shots on goal as a winger. What is a remarkable sign of Oduro's progress is that the player who once had a reputation for being a terrible finisher has 35 shots on goal and is just 5 SOGs shy of league leader Chris Wondolowski who has been playing forward all year long. Prolific scorers like Juan Pablo Angel, Dwayne De Rosario, Sebastien Le Toux and tonight's opponent Fredy Montero have comparable goal totals but significantly worse SOGs percentage compared to total shots taken. Oduro hasn't simply become average.  He is now one of the most accurate, lethal shots in the league.

When asked about the turnaround in fortune, Oduro deflects the success.

I can't take credit for that. I think all my goals have been coming off of hard work from my teammates. They've made it possible for me to be where I am right now. I thank all of them and the fans for helping to make this happen for me. 

There might be some truth there. Oduro's streak of 7 goals in 10 games did not start until after Frank Klopas decided to put fellow Ghanaian Patrick Nyarko up top as well. The two ex-pats speak to each other on the field in Twi, a language spoken by about 60% of the people who live in Ghana. When asked if other players in MLS might understand what he and Nyarko bark out to each other in essentially open code, he said there was ‘no chance'. He backpedaled a little bit to say Vancouver's Gershon Koffie might understand but he isn't 100% sure. Who knew Seattle's best chance to stop Oduro tonight might have been going out and purchasing Rosetta Stone for their defenders and Kasey Keller?

The language explanation cuts short midfield maestro Sebastian Grazzini's impact because he joined the team around the same time Klopas made the forward switch. Nyarko has two assists for Oduro's goals but Grazzini has three. Even Baggio Husidic, a player that has provided merely average play this year managed to play a wonderful ball to Oduro against Houston. Husidic's pass led to Oduro enacting revenge on the team that traded him away leading to a goal that left the game a draw. Houston might miss the playoffs because they had to settle for their 4th home draw of the season instead of their 10th home win all thanks to a seemingly minor trade in March.

Oduro's Future

Where does Dominic Oduro go from here? He's a great clubhouse guy. I asked him before if he was looking forward to walking into Houston last week.  He replied that he didn't see any need for personal revenge, he was only looking forward to helping his team get three points. He used his favorite word and described it as a ‘blessing' to be traded and find great success in Chicago.

Any team would be lucky to have this spark plug of energy with speed, great shooting ability, modest personality, and hard-working attitude. Instead of Oduro going to Europe like last year, Europe might be coming to him. Houston and Oduro came to an agreement so late in 2011 pre-season, it is tough to imagine the current contract is any more than a year.  Oduro stated he believed he could not discuss his contract when I asked.

On playing internationally, he reiterated that is Ghanaian. He is waiting for that call most of all. He only opened up on this after I prodded on whether or not he would consider playing for the United States. His answer: 'never say never, certainly something that would be very hard to refuse'.  I know Jurgen Klinsmann is focusing on younger players but Oduro just turned 26 years old on August 13th. He doesn't have an official 40-yard dash time but he told me unofficially it's been clocked at 4.3 in a loose setting.  His speed is so elite, he likely has a couple of years before he goes back to being 'just fast'.

This Season and Tonight

I speculate on Oduro's future because that is the life of a MLS fan. The better your players get, the more at risk they are to be taken by someone else with deeper pockets in another land. Oduro says he loves Chicago, says his teammates are awesome, and gave much credit to the Chicago fans and Section 8 for giving him inspiration as they cheer him on when he blazes down the sideline. If anything, the entire situation can make you appreciate tonight that much more.

Success can be fleeting.  Dare I take a page from Oduro's book and say success is a blessing.  Look no further than Calen Carr, the player the Chicago Fire traded on order to acquire Oduro. The fact that success happened is permanent though.  Even one-time success happened one time. Frank Klopas, Ante Razov, Josh Wolff, DaMarcus Beasley, Damani Ralph, Andy Herron, and Calen Carr are all goal scorers that have had different levels of success in their careers but each and every one of them have been vital parts of  the Chicago Fire U.S. Open Cup successful tradition.  Nothing can take that away from them ever. Dominic Oduro is poised to join their ranks and continue his incredible goal scoring run as the stage opens on the 2011 U.S. Open Cup Final.