Up to this point, Jide Ogunbiyi’s career has been a story of almosts. He almost joined the New York Red Bulls. He almost made it onto a few English teams. He almost played with Nigeria in the Olympics. Lastly, he almost kickstarted a European football career with Danish club Viborg FF. Now he has another shot at MLS.
Each of these previous stages in his career have ended in frustration but Ogunbiyi remains positive and optimistic about soccer. Last November he wrote two articles for Goal.com about his career and what it was like to play soccer in Denmark as a Nigerian-American (here and here).
Standing at an imposing 6 feet 4 inches tall, Ogunbiyi exceled at center-back after transitioning from the forward position during his collegiate career at Santa Clara University. While playing at Santa Clara, he appeared in 77 games, scoring 11 goals and registering 8 assists. In addition, Ogunbiyi earned the following honors in college: NSCAA All-Far West Third Team, 2008; All-WCC First Team, 2008; NSCAA All-Far West Region Second Team, 2007; Brown adidas Classic All-Tournament Team 2007; All-WCC Honorable Mention, 2005, 2006, 2007; WCC All-Freshman Team, 2005.
Ogunbiyi trained with the Nigerian Olympic team ahead of the 2008 games but was ultimately left out of the final roster. The defender was drafted in the second round, 18th overall, of the 2009 MLS SuperDraft by the New York Red Bulls. During preseason training he had impressed the Red Bulls staff enough to earn a contract offer, but at that time he saw his career across the Atlantic in European leagues.
After snubbing MLS, Ogunbiyi traveled to England. He attracted attention from several League One clubs and had short but reportedly successful trials at Leeds United and Oldham Athletic. According to the defender, he wasn’t able to secure a contract in England due to his inability to obtain a UK work permit.
Once he signed with Viborg FF in March 2010, Ogunbiyi exploded onto the Danish football scene with two goals in a nine appearance stretch as a central defender. He was named to the league team of the week three times and was awarded five man of the match commendations.
He was voted Viborg’s best player in the 2011 season and later trained with Karlsruher of the German second division. Ogunbiyi suffered a serious injury and then, adding insult, did not receive medical compensation from the club. Viborg wanted Ogunbiyi to have surgery in Europe, but the defender opted to receive his procedure and treatment in the United States. Though he was a sensational player in 2011, taking the Danish second tier by storm, Ogunbiyi struggled to regain his fitness and form after undergoing surgery.
With the departure of Tim Ream to Bolton Wanderers of the English Premier League, the New York Red Bulls were publicly in the market for a new defender. Carlos Mendes was waived in the offseason but New York then brought in Markus Holgersson and Wilman Conde. However, with Conde’s injury problems and Holgersson’s struggles to deal with the physicality of MLS, Ogunbiyi seems to be a great pickup.
While the Rochester-born defender is probably not a starter if everyone is healthy, Red Bulls fans know that condition is highly unlikely during 2012. Ogunbiyi can provide more aggressiveness and tenacity than current back up Stephen Keel. The Nigerian-American’s presence would allow Red Bulls head coach Hans Backe to play Heath Pearce exclusively as a left back in place of the consistent liability Roy Miller. Even though Ogunbiyi is not a blockbuster signing like Tim Cahill or even Sebastian Le Toux, his acquisition clearly makes Red Bull New York a stronger club going forward in their push for the 2012 MLS Cup.