One of Major League Soccer's most-traveled players is seeking to add another pit stop to his unusual career journey.
Andy Iro grew up just streets away from Anfield, the iconic stadium that English Premier League giant Liverpool calls home. Yet while countless hopeful young American soccer players dream of ascending to the bright lights of England, Iro has headed in the other direction.
Iro came to the United States to accept a scholarship at the University of California, Santa Barbara. After winning a national title with the Gauchos in 2006, he opted to remain Stateside instead of returning home and was drafted by the Columbus Crew, before being traded to Toronto FC earlier this season.
Yet if Iro gets his own way it could be his next stop that proves the most intriguing. The 26-year-old is hoping that his solid performances in MLS and the CONCACAF Champions League will earn him a call-up to the Nigeria national team, and the possibility of performing in tournaments such as the World Cup and African Cup of Nations.
“It is something that I am definitely thinking about and would love to be a part of,” Iro said. “I have Nigerian heritage and it would be a very proud moment to get the opportunity.”
Iro was born in England but is eligible to play for Nigeria because both his parents hail from the African nation. Nigeria is in the process of trying to rebuild after a dismal World Cup campaign last year that was clouded by controversy: The country’s president, Goodluck Jonathan, suspended the team from international competition for two years due to the embarrassment of finishing last in Group B.
The ban was eventually lifted following threats of sanctions from international governing body FIFA and now head coach Samson Siasia is attempting to find fresh talent. Reports in Nigeria have confirmed that Siasia is monitoring Iro’s progress and considering giving him an opportunity in forthcoming exhibition games.
“I have had some great and very different experiences in my career,” Iro said. “Coming from England to America after high school and going through the whole college experience is not your typical route for an English player.
“But being out here and playing in MLS has been a great thing for me and I believe it has made me stronger as a player and a person. I love having new experiences and learning about life and I am grateful for having had this kind of variety.”
Iro’s worldly approach extends to his personal life and he plans to broaden his horizons further at the end of the current MLS season. Having already traveled extensively in Europe and Africa, he is planning a sightseeing trip to Brazil this winter.
Before then though, he and Toronto have an important date with FC Dallas in their final CONCACAF Champions League game Oct.18. Victory would guarantee the Canadians a spot in the quarterfinal of the regional competition and would arguably be their finest achievement since formation in 2007.
“We are determined to get to the next stage and keep ourselves alive in the tournament,” Iro said. “Playing in the Champions League has added something to my game and my career and it is time for us to step up and continue our run.”