all scores

Asisat Oshoala joins Bay FC from FC Barcelona

img
Courtesy of Bay FC

FC Barcelona forward Asisat Oshoala is joining the NWSL, signing with expansion side Bay FC through 2026 with an option for 2027. A proven winner, she brings a knack for goalscoring and the ability to connect with her playmakers that creates a more complete attack for the club.

“She brings a top-class mentality to the field combined with pace and technical ability that allows her to lead the line, while also giving those players around her the license to be creative and thrive in space,” Bay FC general manager Lucy Rushton said in a team statement.

With Bay FC already in preseason, Oshoala has wasted no time arriving in camp, and is settling in with her new club in Santa Barbara. The move presents a new leap of faith for the 29-year-old, who has never shied away from pursuing new challenges.

“I’ve stayed a long time in Europe, it’s the longest I’ve stayed anywhere,” she tells Just Women’s Sports prior to Thursday’s announcement. “I’ve played in different continents and all that, and I just feel like I would love to try elsewhere maybe one more time, one more change to see how that feels.”

Fans in the U.S. might know Oshoala from Nigeria’s scintillating run at the 2023 World Cup, or perhaps as the first African woman to win the Champions League with Barcelona in 2021. She’s had multiple record seasons with the Spanish champions, most notably tying for first in scoring in Liga F in 2021/22. But even before she found a home in Barcelona, she’s always had the mindset that change is a positive, and diversity of experience is a strength.

After getting her professional start in Nigeria as a teenager, Oshoala transferred to Liverpool in the WSL when she was just 20 years old. After a stint at Arsenal, she transferred to the Chinese club Dalian, winning the golden boot and two league championships there. 

She went into her experience in China completely blind to the footballing culture, but came out of her time there a more well-rounded player with valuable experience. “I was just willing to take the risk, and I totally loved it,” she says.

It’s with a similarly open mind that she met with Bay FC head coach Albertin Montoya, who presented to her a new experience that she felt she could get excited about. “I feel like everyone wants to be a part of something beautiful, something amazing,” she says. 

“The project that this club is trying to build is really on the high side, the challenge is also it’s more or less a risk for me … because of where I’m coming from, the style of football, the environment and everything. It’s a big change, it’s a huge change for me, but it’s a risk I’m willing to take as well.”

“If you don’t leave your comfort zone, sometimes you don’t get to achieve certain things,” she continues. “It’s very important to understand this, and at this point in my career, I won’t think I’m really scared to make big changes.”

The comfort zone (and winning culture) of Barcelona doesn’t seem to be waning anytime soon, something that Oshoala admits gave her pause when she was considering her options for the future. She’s won basically every possible trophy with the club, and she leaves mid-season with Barcelona poised for even more success. She considered putting her decision off for a little while. 

“It was hard,” she says. “Walking away from that was difficult. Where can I go from that — you just don’t know where you can be that can actually be better than where you are at the moment.”

But then the questions she asked herself became more personal, outside of winning soccer games. “Sometimes you have to tell yourself, okay, apart from trophies, what do you have currently, what else is there for you?” she says. “These are the questions I asked myself, these are the questions I had deep conversations with my family.”

Oshoala brings up the Asisat Oshoala Academy, and the girls there who want to follow in her footsteps towards professional footballing careers. She hopes that her move to the NWSL shows young players in Nigeria that a number of different continents could be in their future.

“You want to think about the younger generations coming up,” she says. “You want to think about the African players who can actually get more opportunities to come into this league. You want to encourage these girls to also come here as well.”

img
Asisat Oshoala is greeted at the airport by Bay FC general manager Lucy Rushton (Courtesy of Bay FC)

As for what awaits her on the field, Oshoala is still in the early stages of acclimating to Bay FC’s style of play, but even in initial meetings with coaching staff she felt she understood a clear vision. “Albertin is a very professional person, he is funny, can be funny as well,” she says with a laugh.

“He’s a person who knows what he wants, and how he wants to play,” she continues. “And I actually like that he wants to keep the ball. They want to play a different style of football compared to what the league is actually used to and all of that. I just feel like I want to be a part of something like that from the scratches, where I don’t mind the risk behind it.”

Her signing represents the promise of a larger sea change in the NWSL, where top coaching talents (like Oshoala’s Barcelona manager Jonatan Giráldez) are eager to usher in a new era of tactical nuance that retains the league’s competitiveness while sharpening technicality. Possession-style football has at times been easier to discuss than actually implement in the NWSL, but 2024 could see more clubs than ever trying to marry a more technical style with the league’s established speed of play.

Oshoala is coming in without many pre-formed opinions on the NWSL’s style. “I never had the interest to play in America, to be honest with you,” she says. “I used to say that — not because I don’t like the league or something — I usually don’t really follow like that because of the time difference. I was never so interested or invested in it, but recently my mind changed. I saw a couple of players here, you know, and then I started following them because I’ve got friends as well who play here.”

She now sees playing in front of American crowds to be an opportunity for brand-building, and she’s clear that she both wants and expects Bay FC to contend for a playoff spot in their first year. 

“I’m not going to expect the same level of performance from my teammates compared to that of where I’m coming from,” she says. “But I’m ready to kind of go for it. I’m ready to fight for them, fight for each other, go out there, have each other’s back and tell ourselves it’s our first year and we really want to reach the playoffs.”

“You want everyone to feel like we’re not going to be an easy team to play. If you’re gonna get a point off of us, you can work for it.”

Off the field, Oshoala is happy that despite moving continents, she will still be near water, where she likes to go be by herself and switch off from football. On the field, the work begins to create a cohesive unit out of a newly-put-together expansion side. 

“I feel like I’ve been there before, I’ve done that before and know how it turned out,” she says. “It’s not gonna be something easy, but it’s something that is achievable. And I’m a person who will just go for what I want. If I like it, I want to do it.”