By Matthew Cucuzza
As a lifelong soccer player, Tony Igwe had plenty to teach his three children on their way to Santa Clara.
His sons, Kelechi and Amaechi, and daughter, Chioma, were all former Santa Clara soccer standouts and grew up watching their father play and coach the game.
“The easiest way to explain it is that I really don’t know anything else,” said Kelechi, the eldest of Tony’s three children. “It’s like having a really good coach in your household.”
Tony was born in Nigeria, and by age eight, had made the country’s junior national soccer team.
At 16, Tony represented Nigeria at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City.
In 1975, Tony moved to the United States and was a three-time All-American standout at the University of San Francisco. During his college years, USF won two national championships.
Tony then played professionally, even playing against the great PelÃ©, before focusing on coaching.
His coaching career led him to Menlo College, Stanford University and most recently Chabot College in Hayward, Calif.
He also nurtured a love for the game in his three children.
“When I was about three or four, my dad was coaching at Stanford, and he used to always bring me on the field and kick the ball around,” Kelechi said.
Amaechi credited the time his dad spent with him and his siblings as the reason why they all excelled at the game their father taught them to love.
“My dad would take us out and have us play one-on-one full field,” Amaechi said. “He would have us do crazy training in all the time he spent with us.”
Kelechi played for the Santa Clara men’s soccer team from 2002 to 2005. He was the team’s second-leading scorer with 13 points in his senior season.
Kelechi now works at a start-up company in Campbell, and he recently started training again with Santa Clara Sporting, a semi-pro soccer team that has housed several former Santa Clara players.
“I have a ton of respect for Kelechi,” Santa Clara men’s soccer Head Coach Cameron Rast said. “He got a lot out of what his abilities were.”
Daughter Chioma grew up playing on the Northstar club soccer team, coached by her father.
She was a highly sought-after recruit in high school after being named a Parade All-American, National Soccer Coaches Association of America All-American and High School Sports Focus Player of the Year.
The San Jose Mercury News named her player of the year during her senior year of high school.
Chioma attended UC Berkeley before transferring to Santa Clara for her junior year.
The midfielder started all 21 games for the Broncos last season and was named to the All-WCC Second Team.
She scored one goal last year.
Chioma now plays in a semi-professional league in Germany, and she hopes to join the new Women’s Professional Soccer League in the United States.
“I’ve always looked up to my older brother and always competed with him,” Chioma told The Santa Clara last winter. “I think that allowed me to become a better player because I played with boys and competed with my brothers.”
As the youngest of the siblings, Amaechi feels differently.
“My brother and sister were bigger than me,” he said. “My sister was the most physical person. I feel like she was always trying to break me. I always had to try to keep up with them.”
Amaechi made varsity as a freshman at Bellarmine College Preparatory in San Jose prior to attending the IMG Soccer Academy, a full-time residency program in Bradenton, Fla. devoted to the development of the U.S. under-17 national team.
Graduates of the academy include U.S. National Team players Freddy Adu, Jozy Altidore and Landon Donovan.
“It prepared me to come into a professional environment at an early age,” Amaechi said. “It kept your mind strictly on soccer.”
Amaechi played the 2006 season at Santa Clara before signing with Generation Adidas, Major League Soccer’s developmental program that encourages the early entry of young players into MLS.
With Generation Adidas, Amaechi trained in South America and Europe, even playing with the reserves of Spanish soccer powerhouse Real Madrid.
Because Generation Adidas players sign MLS contracts, Amaechi forfeited his college eligibility.
Amaechi preferred the skill-oriented game of MLS to the more physical college game after competing against world-class talent for most of his early soccer career.
Amaechi plays for New England Revolution, the team that drafted him 12th overall in the 2007 MLS SuperDraft.
“Ever since he’s been playing for New England, he’s been able to play like himself,” Kelechi said. “He feels a lot more comfortable in that setting.”
Amaechi added, “I’m having a lot of fun out here living a professional life. The fans out here treat us really well.”
Rast said he enjoyed five years of coaching the Igwe family.
“Part of what we think Tony instilled in his family is such a desire and drive to be great,” Rast said. “As much as we demanded of them, he demanded a lot as well.”
Rast believes the Igwe family is one of the most prominent Bay Area soccer families.
“It’s rare to see three players out of the same family achieve what they achieved,” Rast said. “I have a lot of respect for the Igwe family and what they’ve done for the college game and beyond.”
Rast can thank Tony for that.
Contact Matthew Cucuzza at (408) 551-1918 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.