Up top or out wide, DC United counting on versatile Igboananike to score

WASHINGTON — Before the Chicago Fire brought him to MLS in 2015, forward Kennedy Igboananike had spent the entirety of his professional career playing in Sweden. So when the Nigerian forward found out he was being traded from Chicago to D.C. United last week, it was the first time he had encountered the concept of a trade. 

“I can say it is stressful. I don’t know what it is — trade — because I played all my life in Europe,” Igboananike told media after training on Thursday. “In Europe they don’t do trading. They do loans or the signings, so it is my first time experiencing trade.”

Igboananike was a Designated Player for the Fire, playing 49 regular-season games for the club and recording 11 goals and four assists over two seasons. 

D.C. United, who have mustered the second-fewest goals in MLS this year with 20, are hoping the speedster can help get them on the scoresheet more regularly.

“I brought him in here to score goals,” D.C. head coach Ben Olsen told MLSsoccer.com on Thursday. “You can never have too many strikers.”

Igboananike’s natural position is as a center forward, but in Sunday's 1-1 draw against the Montreal Impact, in his first appearance for United, he played left midfield after coming on for former Fire teammate Patrick Nyarko in the 64th minute.

It's not the first time Igboananike has switched to the midfield.  

“I think it was when [Chicago] got the new coach and he asked me to play the left wing. I played very well, but I still prefer playing No. 9 because that is my natural position,” Igboananike told MLSsoccer.com. “As a professional player, you have to be ready when any coach needs your service, so if they need my service left wing, right wing, to cover up the space it is for the team. I just have to do it.”

Added Olsen: “A lot of guys with his quality can also be pushed wide in certain scenarios. That versatility is a good thing.”

Igboananike showed off some of that versatility in his D.C. debut against Montreal, helping United in the absence of wide players Lamar Neagle and Lloyd Sam. He will hope to see more time this weekend, as United host another Eastern foe in the Philadelphia Union on Saturday night at RFK Stadium (7 pm ET, MLS LIVE).

Although he had spoken a few times with his agent about moving to D.C. United prior to the trade materializing last week, the timing of the move still came as a surprise to Igboananike. He said he was part of Chicago's gameplan for their match last weekend before the deal became official. But now his focus is solely on helping United.

“Anything about Chicago I just have to keep it behind. I am no longer playing for Chicago. I am no longer putting on Chicago’s jersey,” Igboananike said. “I just have to focus on D.C. United and give everything I can and help the team to their goals and everyone will be happy.”