When Tobenna Uzo joined the Premier Development League at the beginning of the season, his intention was clear: develop his game to the point where he could take his talents to the professional level.
The road to professionalism didn't begin as planned for the No. 9 PDL Top Prospect. Uzo made the cut at the MLS SuperDraft following his senior season at Coastal Carolina University, selected in the fourth round with the 68th overall pick by Orlando City SC. But the team declined signing Uzo to an MLS deal, and so the Nigerian forward instead found himself with the PDL's Myrtle Beach Mutiny, where he believes he found the right place to get him back on track.
“It prepared me very well,” Uzo told USLPDL.com. “This was my first year in the PDL, the year before that I played in the NPSL, but the level in the PDL is way better than the NPSL, in my opinion. It got me very, very ready. The team did very well this year and just the fact that my squad had this amount of goals helped my confidence in going around for some trials. Our team did well and because of that, I did well and a lot of teams were interested in me. It kept me very sharp and ready for any trials that came my way.”
With the Mutiny, Uzo not only grew his talents in preparation for the leap to the pro game, but put his full ability on display in a standout year ranking among the best performances of 2017. Uzo helped guide the Mutiny to the South Atlantic Division title, ahead of the eventual champion Charlotte Eagles, and did so by leading the team in both goals, with 13, and assists with three.
Along the way, Uzo kept his goal of making it back to the professional level in mind constantly as he worked at improving his craft. A 6'4, 210 pound target forward, Uzo was a force to be reckoned with for defenders, who consistently found themselves shaking their heads as Uzo celebrated goal after goal in 2017. But Uzo was simply showing what he could do provide for a professional team. He knew that if he put himself out there, he could achieve his goals.
“Every day in practice, every day in games, just try and get better, because you never know who's watching,” Uzo said. “You never know, there are scouts out there. I'd also say take care of your body. This PDL season compared to around the same time last year, I lost about 15 pounds. So take care of your body on the field and off the field because taking it to the next level, you have to be more mentally and physically prepared.”
One performance in particular stood out for Uzo as having helped put him on the radar of the watching scouts. In the latter part of the season, July 1st to be exact, the Mutiny put on a clinic in dispatching the Wilmington Hammerheads by a 6-2 tally. The match proved to be a special one for Uzo.
“Fondest memory? I'll definitely say the day we won 6-2 against the Wilmington Hammerheads,” Uzo said. “That was my first hat-trick ever in my life. I'd score two goals all the time, but I'd never scored a hat-trick. So that was my fondest memory this summer in the PDL.”
Performances like that took Uzo from narrowly missing out in MLS to his first professional contract with the USL's Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC. Now, he'll take aim at performing against fellow professionals and raising his game to even greater heights. But the PDL will be a place of fond memories for Uzo, a place that helped him get to the pro dreams he's been chasing.