FC Dallas defender Ugo Ihemelu comes to terms with possibility that his playing days are over

Ugo Ihemelu holds off Ryan Guy

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FRISCO, Texas – It’s been 546 days. That was the last time Ugo Ihemelu participated in a full practice with FC Dallas.

It was May 5, 2012, and the next day the stalwart defender suffered a concussion in a match against the Colorado Rapids. He has not seen the field since.

The Dallas native and Southern Methodist University product has not completely given up hope of playing again, but he is also coming to grips with the reality of his situation. 

“Right now talking to the doctor ... he wouldn’t support me getting back on the field considering my history and how long it’s taken to get over this one, the fact I’m still having symptoms after a year-and-a-half now,” Ihemelu told MLSsoccer.com earlier this week. “The chances aren’t looking great.”

With his contract set to expire in December and Ihemelu still unable to progress through the league’s post-concussion protocols required to get back onto the field, it is unclear whether the 30-year-old will be brought back by the club as a player. FC Dallas technical director Fernando Clavijo declined to comment on the contract status of any players during Wednesday’s conference call with reporters, but he did specifically say the team missed Ihemelu in 2013.

“The other one we needed big is Ugo,” Clavijo responded when asked about areas of need going into the offseason. “Walker Zimmerman was injured, so a lot of pressure was thrown on George [John] and Matt [Hedges] to fill a big hole.”

Though he certainly still wants to play, the more important goal now for Ihemelu is to get back to a sense of normalcy, where he can enjoy an active lifestyle, sleep normally and workout with out experiencing headaches, nausea or dizziness. Whether or not he is playing, though, Ihemlu wants remain with FC Dallas in some capacity and said that coaching is a path he’d strongly consider.

“It’s the club that I grew up watching play. I’ve almost done everything – I’ve done parking for the club,” said Ihemelu. “It’s Dallas, it’s my home team. If [coaching is] an opportunity, it’s definitely something I would look into. If I’m not able to play on the field, that’s the route that I could stay as close to the game as possible.”

Ihemelu wistfully admits that injuries may ultimately be responsible for him not reaching his full potential as a player. But overall, he said he is very thankful for the time he’s had as a professional athlete playing for the club he grew up following.

“I’ve been fortunate,” he said. “I know a lot of guys that I came into this league with that didn’t last as long as I did, so if it ended today or tomorrow and I know for sure that I’m done, it’s been nine seasons that I’ve had.

“I’m not going to lie, [soccer is] an addictive game, it’s why I’ve played for as long as I have. But you have to look at the bigger picture and the relationships I’ve gained and the experiences I’ve had. I’ve been very fortunate.”