Less than 24 hours after being named as a starter to Major League Soccer’s Team of the week, it’s clear Wyatt Omsberg has let nothing go to his head.
It’s Tuesday. The grass at the Chicago Fire’s training pitch in Bridgeview has started to wake up for spring, and Omsberg is busy walking around with an adidas soccer bag in hand. As we wait for him to come over for our interview, he’s filling the giant black bag with the soccer balls used for the now-completed training session, which are scattered around everywhere.
Omsberg uses his 6’ 4” frame to grab one out that’s trapped high in the net behind the goal. Once that bag is full, he grabs another and repeats the process.
“He does this every day,” says Elizabeth Sanchez, the Fire’s Manager of Communications.
When the job is finally done, Omsberg heads over to talk to us.
“I like our equipment guys, Brian (Sauer) and Juan (Arriola),” Omsberg explains. “I have a really good relationship with them, so I just try and help them out. I think a lot of guys do as well. It’s something little after training to help them out, and make their jobs a little bit easier.”
Omsberg seems upbeat, and so do the rest of his teammates. After a win and two draws, the Fire are off to their best start in years, and Omsberg has been right in the thick of it. He made only five starts in 18 appearances in 2021, but has started all three matches this season, playing a key role in the team’s three shutouts. Omsberg is tied for the team lead in blocks with Rafael Czichos at four, and leads the team in clearances with 22.
“I think as a group we feel really good about our start,” Omsberg says. “We talked a lot in preseason about improving the defense from years past, and really put an emphasis on getting clean sheets. I think as a group we feel really good. Personally, I feel good. I feel like me and Rafa developed a pretty strong partnership back there.”
Omsberg wasn’t expected to start. The centerback pairing was supposed to be Czichos, the new captain, alongside Carlos Terán. But Terán’s been out with a hamstring injury, so Omsberg took the opportunity and ran with it.
“Going into preseason, I just tried to put myself in a really good spot,” he says. “And we had new coaches, new players. So I wanted to make a good impression going into preseason and I just tried to work hard, and I don’t worry too much about if I’m playing, if I’m not playing, whatever it is.”
THE MAINE MESSI
Omsberg learned that work ethic growing up in Scarborough, Maine where he came from a soccer family. His brother and sister both played, and Omsberg says they paved the way for his success. His parents played a big role, too, shuttling a young Wyatt all over the northeast for training and games.
“Especially when I played academy, it was an hour and a half,” he says. “And even when I was younger, it was like an hour each way. So my parents were really supportive. My dad especially would drive me pretty much every day after work, and pick me up from school. Driving down to training, games on the weekends. So I was lucky enough to have really supportive parents.”
Omsberg led Scarborough High School to a state title, and picked up Gatorade Maine Boys Soccer Player of the Year honors after a 19 goal, 12 assist season—the future central defender was once a goal scoring machine.
“He makes everyone else better,” his coach, Rocco Frenzilli, said after that season concluded.
Omsberg knew the path to make it as a soccer player from Maine was narrow, but it was possible.
“There’s not a ton of soccer players coming out of Maine, but there’s always a couple of good guys every year,” Omsberg says. “There’s a couple guys who go D1. I was on a very good team in high school, so then I was lucky enough to go to Dartmouth and we had a lot of success there as well.”
At Dartmouth, Omsberg worked his way to become one of the best players in the nation. He was Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year, and a MAC Hermann Trophy Semifinalist. Omsberg was selected 15th overall by Minnesota United in the 2018 MLS SuperDraft, becoming the first player in Ivy League history to be drafted in the first round.
ONTO THE LOONS
The difference was immediately noticeable.
“It was a big jump,” Omsberg says of his first days in MLS. “Going from, you know, Ivy League Soccer to pro soccer, it took me a little while to get adjusted. I just tried to keep my head down and keep working. Keep improving every day.”
Omsberg didn’t play much in Minnesota. He went on loan twice–including a stint at Forward Madison–where he had a good amount of success in the USL League One side’s inaugural season.
“It was a really good experience,” Omsberg says of his time with the ‘Mingos. “They pack Breese (Stevens Field). They get like three or four thousand every game. So it was a really good experience for me.”
Despite his success on loan, Minnesota dealt Omsberg to the Fire in exchange for Raheem Edwards, just days before the Covid-19 pandemic began.
“SUSHI” JOINS THE FIRE
It was Miguel Navarro’s fault.
The Mainer and the Venezuelan had just arrived in Chicago in early 2020. Omsberg was traded to the Fire late in preseason, and Navarro arrived a few days later. The two were staying at the same hotel, and at the time, Omsberg spoke a little Spanish, and Navarro spoke almost no English (that’s since changed–Navarro has worked hard at it and is nearly fluent in English).
“Oh, we’re gonna get into this?” Omsberg says, jokingly, when we ask him about what happened next.
It was time for dinner one night, and as the story goes, Navarro tells Omsberg he wants “arroz con pollo”. Perfect. Omsberg finds a place with chicken and rice on the menu, and the two sit down.
“I ordered a roll of sushi,” Omsberg says, laughing. “He speaks no English, but says ‘You like sushi?’ And so like every day for like, pretty much six months, every time I saw him he goes ‘Do you like sushi?’”
The name stuck. To his teammates, Omsberg was now “sushi.”
“Just because we got that first meal together in Chicago, which is kind of funny,” he says.
WYATT IS ‘THE MAN’
From players to staff, everyone at the Fire, it seems, loves “Sushi”.
“Wyatt is the man. He’s such a good dude,” says Fire play-by-play guy Tyler Terens, who has become close friends with Omsberg.
Right back Boris Sekulić, who has started alongside Omsberg in every match this season, said he immediately saw Omsberg’s potential when the two joined the club in 2020, and he’s happy he’s finally getting a shot.
“He’s a great guy, and I can say a really big professional,” Sekulić said of his teammate. “He is training a lot in normal training, and in the gym. I am happy for him, I think he deserves this.”
His new coach feels the same.
“He’s responded really well after being thrown into that starting role,” Fire head coach Ezra Hendrickson said. “We’re happy for him, and we like the way he’s progressing.”
When Terán is healthy again, he may well beat out Omsberg for the right sided centerback position. If that happens, Omsberg won’t falter. He’ll continue to “control the controllables” as he puts it. He’ll keep working hard and supporting his teammates, be ready whenever he’s called upon, and keep cleaning up all those soccer balls after training.
“If I’m not playing whatever it is, I’m just trying to keep my head down and work,” he says. “Work hard no matter what. And you know, hopefully the games come.”