Portland Timbers striker Fanendo Adi, now in his second full season with the team, has – since publication – become an MLS Cup champion and a member of the Nigerian national team. Here are 10 things you need to know:
Original Text - Nov. 21, 2015
Fanendo Adi is one of the big reasons why the Portland Timbers have advanced to the Western Conference Championship of the Audi 2015 MLS Cup Playoffs. The big Nigerian striker came on particularly strong as the season wore on, scoring four goals to lead the team to three straight wins to end the regular season. And with six goals in his final five games, Adi set the Timbers MLS record for goals in a season, with 16 in his first full campaign with the club.
And in just a season and a half with Portland after his midsummer acquisition last year from FC Copenhagen, Adi has 25 goals and seven assists in 57 appearances (41 starts). He’s known for scoring goals in the Rose City, not to mention his stature at 6-foot-4, 185-pounds, but here are 10 things you may not have known about Adi.
Humble beginnings: Adi grew up poor in a small central Nigerian village in Benue State – of course, always playing soccer. He told Timbers.com early this season that he would play for hours, sometimes only wearing bedroom slippers, and oftentimes skipping out on household chores much to the chagrin of his mother.
“A lot of trouble. A lot of trouble, actually,” Adi told MLSsoccer.com with a laugh.
Something in the yam: When he’s not playing soccer, Adi said he likes playing basketball, tennis or just hanging out with friends. But when it comes to special hobbies, eating was at the top of the list. And his wife’s Egusi soup with pounded yam, a traditional Nigerian soup, is, apparently, to die for.
“The soup is made with some special ingredients from Africa, and it’s really, really good. I’d say it what makes me so strong,” he said with a big laugh.
International hopes in the balance: Last year after scoring in the Timbers’ 2-0 victory over the Vancouver Whitecaps in the second leg of the conference semifinals, Adi told Nigerian outlet Daily Trust that he was “waiting for [his] chance” with Nigeria and was encouraged by Obafemi Martins' recent reunion with the national team.
“This is my 17th goal for Portland Timbers this season and I am hoping that [head coach Sunday] Oliseh will consider me worthy of a chance in the Super Eagles. … If Obafemi Martins can get a chance to play for Eagles again, I also stand a very good chance. I am waiting for my chance, but I cannot invite myself.”
It turns out the national team was watching, and Adi was called up in March.
Not always the biggest: Adi is one of the more formidable target forwards in the league, drawing much praise from head coach Caleb Porter for his physical play against bruising center backs such as the Vancouver Whitecaps’ Kendall Waston and Seattle Sounders’ Chad Marshall. But it wasn’t always that way.
“I was a little tiny guy when I’d go to play,” Adi said. “My friends would say you are so small so you stay in the posts, so I was a goalie when I was growing up. They never let me play because they said I was too small.”
Adi said becoming a forward was all about will power.
“It’s just putting your mind to what you want to do.”
Well traveled: Adi is only 25 years old, but he’s already played for five different clubs. He started his career, after trying out and being accepted to the well-regarded Brazilian Soccer School in Lagos, with Trencin in 2009. In 2011, he spent time in Ukraine with Metalurh Donetsk, a brief loan stint with Dynamo Kyiv and then Tavriya Simferopol. He rejoined Trencin for the 2012-13 season before coming to Copenhagen in 2013.
Closest friends: A lot has been made about the tight-knit nature of the Timbers’ locker room this year. Porter and veterans such as Nat Borchers said it played a big role in making it through the season’s tougher times. Adi said he has a close relationship with all of his teammates, although said he hangs out mostly with two second-year players, defender Taylor Peay and midfielder George Fochive.
Deuces wild: Adi endeared himself to Timbers fans very early in his time with the team, leading to the common phrase that he “only scores in twos.” In his first start with the team, May 28 against Chivas USA, Adi scored two goals, and then bagged another brace in his next start, June 7 against Real Salt Lake. In all, Adi has nine two-goal games.
Postseason experience: Adi is no stranger to the big stage. He featured in three group matches with FC Copenhagen in the 2013-14 UEFA Champions League tournament, earning a start in a 1-1 draw against Italian club Juventus and making substitute appearances against Spanish club Real Madrid and Turkish club Galatasaray. He also played in the 2013-14 Europa League tournament with Slovakian side AS Trencin, tallying a brace in a 2-1 win against Swedish side IFK Göteborg in the deciding second-leg match of the second qualifying round.
Gunning for all-time record books: Adi set an MLS Timbers single season record with 16 goals, but he’s also putting his mark on the club’s all-time record book. His 17 goals across all competitions is one shy of the single-season total set by Peter Withe (1975), Fadi Afash (2002), McKinley Tennyson (2002) and Byron Alverez (2004). He still has a chance to set the record the most goals across all competitions in a two-season span. He currently has 28 goals, two shy of Alverez’s total from the 2003 and ’04 seasons.
Getting an education: Adi’s mother and grandmother were never thrilled with the idea of him pursuing his dream to be a professional soccer player, preferring him to focus on his education first. And he hasn’t forgotten those wishes, having been enrolled in college classes since joining the Timbers.