RJ DEMELLO - Wednesday, October 2, 2013
It is a goal with a feeling like no other.
It is the goal that turns a poor season into a great one; it is the goal that keeps a team from being relegated.
For American forward Chuck Chijindu, he joined the club of few Americans who have been fortunate enough to experience the joy and passion behind such a goal. The former UCONN player secured his Thor team's spot in the Icelandic top division, the Urvalsdeild, for 2014 with a second minute strike last Sunday.
Thor's right back got forward and delivered a cross into the box. As the California native described it to Yanks-Abroad, "I bring it down with my left foot out of the air, and now as I bring it down one defender is on my back and my back is facing the goal. I kind of just turn him with one touch and then I bend it around the keeper to the far post."
"It was early on in the game so emotions were already high and you know, it was a great feeling," Chijindu continued.
Sunday's goal was important, but it was just the culmination of a brilliant season by the former Chivas USA player.
"What most people don't know is that I didn't have a preseason, I didn't have a chance to build up my body-and get the body ready for a grueling season," Chijindu calmly described the night before the teams final match of the season.
The forward resigned with the club just before the start of the campaign in May, after helping lead the team to the second division title in 2012.
With the club's small amount of resources, the team was eager to throw Chijindu directly into the action, "I had to kind of slow them down and be like...I can't just go out and play 90 minutes."
However as he describes, "That didn't last too long, we lost the first three games and my first game I played about 20 and my next game I was playing 90, and that was when I ended up picking up a knock and honestly I've been carrying it ever since."
Despite carrying an injury due to the team's desperate circumstances, Chijindu proceeded to carry Thor on his back throughout the season.
After the team's initial three losses Thor won two in a row, with Chijindu scoring in both games. In fact, the forward scored a goal in each of the team's six victories over the course of the season.
It all led to last Sunday's match against IA, a team in the basement of the league and with nothing to play for. "We knew that was a huge game, it was our last home game and we were playing a team with no pressure," Chijindu described.
Thor sat only one point above the relegation zone, and with its last game on the road against a mid-table IBV side, the American and his teammates knew this was their season.
Chijindu did what he does best and opened the scoring in just the second minute of the game. Neither team could find another goal and Thor got the victory it needed. However, Vikingur Olafsvik (the team directly below Thor) could still remain within striking distance with a win of its own, but with a loss Thor would be assured another year in the Urvalsdeild.
As the forward described it, "When our game finished there was 5 minutes of extra time left in their (Vikingur Olafsvik's) game, so everybody had their phones out on the field. When it finally said final-the crowd starting yelling and going crazy and then we just started going crazy and then it just ended up being a good moment."
An experience so different than anything Americans are used to, avoiding relegation means everything to a club and its fans. As he explained, "The crazy thing about it is the celebration was just as big as if you won the league."
With relegation finally not an option, Chijindu took the time to reflect on the success of his season, and if it reached the level he wanted to when it started five months earlier.
"Coming in I definitely had some goals, I chose to write them down on paper and not open it until after (the season) and go check them off," the forward explained in his continued relaxed tone. "I do have a goal of trying to get to double digits- I didn't give a specific number-if I get to double digits that's pretty much going to mean I had a decent season."
Heading into Thor's final league game the next day Chijindu had nine goals. The team managed an upset victory away from home, and of course, as it happened every other time this season, Chijindu scored in the win.
Talking about his goal-scoring exploits he points out, "That's just what I try and do every game, I try to just go out there and be dangerous to be honest."
Dangerous he was in 2013, with his final tally coming in at an impressive 10 goals in only 18 games. This strong performance led to Chijindu being named the player of the year by Thor's fans. Though successful he remains humble in looking at his season, "I think I have a decent rate right now, but I definitely know there's many areas I can improve on."
With the season now over, Chijindu sits in a position many soccer players find themselves in, trying to determine where the road of professional soccer will take them.
What comes first though is no surprise, "I'm going to go home and just relax with the family." The forward wants to ensure that with whatever happens next he is ready, "I'm definitely going to take some time just to...get these knocks out of the way and get back to 100 percent fit and once I'm good you know take it from there."
While a healthy Chijindu would strike fear in the heart of any defender in the Icelandic Premier League, it looks likely that they will not have to worry about such a scenario next year. The former UCONN man's strong season seems to have opened some eyes, "I know there's some things in the works," he explains. "I know there's some interest around, some pretty decent interest, but at least in Scandinavia that's not going to come to fruition until late October, November because the other Scandinavian leagues are playing throughout October."
Moving to a league like Finland, Norway, or Sweden would all be a step up in competition for Chijindu. It is a challenge that the forward is ready and waiting for, "I knew I was coming to a small league, and I knew you have to show yourself to move up to the bigger leagues. So for me it's not about ability it's just about actually being able to show you can play and hopefully everyone else takes notice. So I'm just hoping that's able happen for me."
As Chijindu continues quietly and confidently on to the next challenge, it is the moments like last Sunday that prepare him for it.
Playing through injury, the pressures of carrying a team for an entire season, they are all experiences that can only make someone a better player.
While the journey continues on forward, he will always have the fond memory of the day he saved a small club from relegation with a quick turn and shot in the box.
And for years to come the people of Akureyri, Iceland will talk about the American who single-handedly kept their team in the top division.
It was only a goal, but for Chijindu, the club, and its fans, it sure was a big one.