Micheal Azira - Chicago Fire - walks off the field - smiling

Most professional soccer players can point to one or two individuals who changed their career path for the better, who propelled a what-if situation into a sure-thing.

For Chicago Fire FC midfielder Micheal Azira, it's Ken Davies.

They met, as Azira recalled during a story in The Players’ Tribune, when Azira was 13 and living in Uganda. Davies organized a trip for Azira’s team to play at the Dana Cup in Denmark, and his outlook changed.

“I made it out because of hard work, belief, honesty and the generosity of one man,” Azira wrote. “He was fortunate enough to be in a situation to do that, so he passed along a little bit of his good fortune.”

Now in his seventh MLS season, Azira has made 125 appearances and registered one goal and four assists as a holding midfielder. He’s logged previous stops at the Seattle Sounders, Colorado Rapids and Montreal Impact, plus played five times for the Uganda national team.

Before then, Azira saw the precarious nature of scouting in Africa that can steer players down a wrong path.

“Because so many of us come from such poverty, it’s very easy for these agents to convince a young player to leave,” Azira wrote. “Think about it: $100,000 sounds like a lot to you, but imagine what it sounds like to the player who lives with five other people in a one-bedroom and uses a milk bag for shooting practice.”

Instead of falling into that cycle, Azira played college soccer first at Lindsey Wilson College and then the University of Mobile. Neither are high-profile programs, and Azira encountered plenty of off-field hurdles in coming to America, including some because of the color of his skin, but he impressed enough to earn his shot with the Sounders.

“Kids at school would never sit with us at food halls or outside, they would cross the street to not walk on the same side as us,” Azira wrote. “It felt like nobody wanted us there. It felt like nobody wanted anything to do with any Black players on our team.”

Those reflections are especially prescient nowadays, especially after Azira’s powerful words after George Floyd was killed by a Minneapolis police officer. For more from him on that subject, plus his journey overall, check out more on The Players’ Tribune.