The Nigerian football federation is holding its women’s national team back, according to one of its stars.

Ifeoma Onumonu spoke on the latest episode of Just Women’s Sports‘ “Snacks” podcast about the potential of the Super Falcons — and how a lack of organization at the top is standing in their way.

Ahead of the 2023 World Cup, head coach Randy Waldrum criticized the federation, citing a failure to pay the players. It’s unclear whether or not Waldrum will continue as coach, with his contract set to expire this year.

“It’s no secret that there’s a lot of stuff swirling around with our coaching staff, we’re not really in the know with what’s going on there,” Onumonu said. “Our federation, we’ve had a lot of battles with them. I just want more organization for our federation, saying like, ‘Hey, if you put a little more into this team — like with what you’ve given them, look what they were able to accomplish.’

“If we get a little bit more organized, if we make sure that sleeping arrangements are good, training arrangements, fields are good at camp, just making sure you’re informing the players at a reasonable time about coming into camp.”

Despite entering the World Cup in the midst of a dispute over pay and resources, the team reached the Round of 16, where the Super Falcons were knocked out by eventual runners-up England in penalties.

Nigeria is one of a few countries to have made it to every single Women’s World Cup since the inaugural tournament in 1991. The Super Falcons have made nine World Cup appearances, with their best-ever finish a quarterfinals appearance in 1999.

But Onumonu believes the team has what it takes to be a top-10 team.

“If all of those are solved, I feel like we can be just even better and push for even more,” she said. “But I think those little things are kind of hindering us from advancing into the top 10 teams in the world because I do think we are capable with the makeup of the team. … So I hope in the future, we can kind of get that act together and actually compete so that when we say, ‘Oh, we’re going to win this thing,’ they believe us.”

Nigerian players have enlisted the help of FIFPRO, the international players’ union, to help negotiate their bonuses for national team camps. But a “very misogynistic” culture in Nigeria holds players back from fully speaking out.

“There’s a way I would do it, but it’s not necessarily the appropriate way to do it in Nigeria,” said Onumonu, who was born in the United States and plays for the NWSL’s Gotham FC.

“And that’s the thing where I really lack the understanding is, what is the best way to do it in Nigeria? Because in reality, the same sort of systems that exist in the U.S. that we would probably go through to accomplish this, whether it be creating a CBA or a union, I don’t think that’s the same thing you can do in Nigeria, unfortunately.

“As a woman, it’s very hard to get anything for yourself because of just the way we’re treated and we’re seen in Nigerian societies.”

Gotham FC could go from worst to first in the NWSL, an astonishing transformation witnessed firsthand by Ifeoma Onumonu.

The 29-year-old forward joined Gotham FC in 2020, and she has played for four different head coaches in her time with the club. Freya Coombe left for Angel City in 2021, then Scott Parkinson was fired following a 4-0-8 (W-D-L) start to the 2022 season. Hue Menzies took over as interim head coach through the end of that season, and Juan Carlos Amorós took the reigns ahead of the 2023.

Under Amorós, the club has gone from a league-worst 4-1-17 record last season to 8-6-6 season. With 30 points, Gotham FC is in third place with two matches left to play, and a chance to surpass the San Diego Wave and Portland Thorns for the NWSL Shield.

“I feel like I’m on a different team every year because every year I’ve been here, it’s been a different coach,” Onumonu said on the latest episode of Just Women’s Sports‘ “Snacks” podcast. “And I think that has been sort of the key is the coaching and the staff in general. I think this is the most staff we’ve ever had. I think obviously the players that we’ve brought in this year is a change too. But I think in culmination with all those things, that’s what’s led to the season that we’ve had as compared to last year.”

From Onumonu’s perspective, 2022 was “just a mess” and was “really hard.” She doesn’t feel like the team was set up for success.

This season, though, the team entered with a clear plan and expectations.

“There’s not this mentality, that underdog mentality, because Gotham/Sky Blue has always been that team that it’s like, ‘Ooh, at the bottom of the table.’ It’s not a secret,” she said. “Like, even before I got here, it was like, very much up and down, up and down, mostly down. … I think the club has grown so much. I think that’s part of the reason why we are where we are now.”

“Snacks” co-host Lynn Williams served as a key offseason addition, and the midseason signing of World Cup champion Esther González provided an additional boost. And the buy-in from all the players is something Williams has noticed in her first year with the club.

“It just seemed like everybody who was here last year said, ‘No, we’re just gonna buy into this, and we want to do better,’” she said. “Because you have not had the success you wanted in prior years. So I don’t know, I just like being on this team.”

NEW YORK — Imani Dorsey and Ifeoma “Ify” Onumonu were in a reflective mindset after helping adidas announce the signing of 15 female student-athletes to landmark NIL deals at the brand’s New York headquarters late last month.

The Gotham FC duo were impeccably styled for the outing. As mentors to the group of collegiate athletes, Dorsey and Onumonu participated in breakout sessions with the signees earlier that day before hitting the stage at night.

While coaching the young adidas athletes on their sports journeys, Dorsey and Onumunu had begun to meditate on their own.

“I think being a mentor is nice because it helps you reflect on your own experiences and reminds you of the perspective that you’ve gained from so many different things that you’ve had,” Dorsey said. “Sometimes I sit in the present and I’m completely forgetting how I got here and all the different experiences.

“It’s a give and take … we give a lot, but we’re also gaining just as much from talking with them and reminding ourselves that we’re still learning and growing in this process, too.”

“You start to appreciate yourself a lot more,” Onumonu chimed in.

Dorsey, 26, and Onumonu, 28, have much to appreciate as groundbreakers in the NWSL.

Lucrative NIL deals, like the ones they helped present at the adidas event, were not possible when Onumonu and Dorsey were in college, and transitioning into a professional career was anything but promised. In many ways, the duo represent the first generation of the NWSL, those players who competed without getting much in return, building toward a future where their rights would finally be protected under a collective bargaining agreement.

When Onumonu entered the NWSL in 2017, the league was in its fifth season and experiencing some serious growing pains. In her conversations with the college athletes, she tried to explain the sacrifices she had to make to fulfill her dreams as a soccer player.

“I kind of spoke to my experience of myself transitioning into this league, and it had such instability that the idea of even coming into it was a risk in general. If you could get in, that is,” Onumonu said. “I definitely had a rocky experience up until, even I would say, this point where I have been with Gotham for three years.”

Drafted by the Boston Breakers in 2017, Onumonu played her rookie season there before the club folded in 2018. She went to Portland in the 2018 Dispersal Draft and played in eight games before getting waived, and her future looking more uncertain than ever.

OL Reign offered Onumonu a shot at redemption, signing her as a National Team Replacement player in 2019. Her breakout performance as a relief striker earned her a spot on the full roster in June 2019. Months later, she was on the move again, dealt to Sky Blue FC (now Gotham FC) ahead of the 2020 season.

The 2021 season served as Onumonu’s breakout year. The forward notched eight goals and four assists in 21 starts with the club and earned a spot on the NWSL’s Best XI Second Team.

“I’ve been bounced around teams, I’ve been waived. And if I had known all of this would happen when I was younger, I don’t know if I’d choose it for myself, but I am grateful at the same time,” Onumonu said. “I never thought I’d be at that place where I am now, where I can say, ‘Wow, have I grown as a person? Wow, did this make me grow? Wow, did this make me step up to who I am?’ Because it just showed me how strong I am.”

Dorsey’s transition into the NWSL was more straightforward. Joining Sky Blue as the fifth overall pick in 2018, she had success right away, winning NWSL Rookie of the Year after registering four goals and one assist in 14 games. Off the field, however, the club had come under intense scrutiny for poor working conditions and a lack of adequate player resources. New ownership took over in 2019, spurring a movement toward the Gotham FC of today, which is now the most valuable team in the NWSL.

“I’m a vice captain on the team, but I am in my fifth year, so I have so much to learn, and I’m constantly learning from the people around me. We have so many incredible leaders and women on the team who’ve been through a lot,” said Dorsey. “I think that’s something that’s really special, but also probably a little unique to our league, too, because there’s just so much going on constantly. You just kind of feel like you take on a bunch of different hats because you have to.”

Dorsey, Onumonu and their NWSL peers have had to navigate sub-par working conditions and instability while simultaneously pushing for progress through the league’s 10-year existence. Those responsibilities reached a crescendo in 2021 after a series of reports of abusive behavior resulted in the firing of multiple coaches and general managers. Former NWSL commissioner Lisa Baird stepped down amid the scandal. The watershed moment highlighted the league’s hazards, providing the NWSL Players Association an opportunity to ratify the league’s first-ever CBA and guarantee greater protections for the players.

These experiences informed Dorsey’s advice to her adidas mentees, with NC State forward Jameese Joseph revealing that the Gotham defender encouraged her to advocate for herself.

“The biggest insight I got from Imani was speaking up for yourself. As we transition from college to pro,” Joseph said. “If something doesn’t make you comfortable, then you should speak up for yourself.”

Ifeoma Onumonu hosts a mentorship session ahead of the adidas 50th anniversary of Title IX celebration. (Courtesy of adidas)

With the NWSL still in its infancy, and with plenty of shortcomings to work through, players like Dorsey and Onumonu have stepped up to create a league in their own image. Busy spearheading projects and guiding the NWSL off the pitch, the duo have aimed to make the sport a sustainable and healthy place for all athletes to not only survive but thrive.

That was the impetus, in part, for the establishment of The Black Women’s Player Collective, a non-profit organization created by the Black players in the NWSL to advance opportunities for Black girls in sport and beyond. The BWPC found an enthusiastic partner in adidas after collaborating with the company on the Black Players for Change project, which brought soccer fields to communities across America in an effort to mitigate inequality in the sport.

“I think a brand as big as adidas recognizing Black women in a sport where we haven’t had that recognition yet also just makes so much sense,” said Dorsey.

Dorsey and Onumonu were adamant about maintaining the BWPC’s vision after other competing brands approached the non-profit with the “bare minimum.”

“Even though we’re adidas athletes, before we were apprehensive of being part of a sports brand because of fear that sometimes with these big brands, they want to co-opt the movement, kind of lead it in a direction you didn’t necessarily want to go,” said Onumonu. “Then once you’ve signed on to them and whatever the contract looks like, they can start doing the bare minimum, and I think that was always our fear.

“With adidas, they came in like full force real quick. They have been supporting us, but they have really been there for us with major things, being very, very hands-on.”

Through the non-profit, Dorsey and Onumonu are focused on altering the face of professional soccer from the inside. The juggling of responsibilities has also prepared them for what has been a turbulent season on the pitch with Gotham FC.

The team has made sweeping changes since last year, losing star players Carli Loyd to retirement and Allie Long to maternity leave. Scott Parkinson also took over as head coach after Freya Coombe left for Angel City FC, and midfielder Kristie Mewis, defender Ali Krieger and goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris joined the team in the offseason. All of that upheaval has taken a toll on the club.

At 4-7-0 with 11 games to play this season, Gotham has scored the fewest number of goals and conceded the second-most in the league for a goal differential of minus-11. Now 10th in the NWSL standings, Gotham is a far cry from the win-now, mini-super team many viewed the team to be ahead of the 2022 campaign. FiveThirtyEight forecasts Gotham’s playoff chances at just 11 percent, a figure the club will look to buck in the second half of the season.

“For me, I know it’s frustrating and infuriating because it’s like, yes, I’ve been here for a while, and I’ve seen this club grow and want to continue to see it grow, but I also have to recognize so much change has happened in a very short amount of time and sometimes it takes a little bit for change. The level you want to get to will still take some time,” said Dorsey. “I forget that Scott (Parkinson) is in his first year, like literally his first full season with us. We still have a very young, new coaching staff. They’re incredible, but it feels like everybody is learning together.”

Dorsey and Onumonu said the tumult, uncertainty and stress of last season’s reckoning also contributed to the overwhelming sensation of change.

“There’s ups and downs always in the season, and all we can do is just weather the storms and stick together and do the best we can and just trust in our coaching staff to lead us in the right direction,” Dorsey said. “That’s all we can do at the end of the day.”

Imani Dorsey and Ifeoma Onumonu participate in a mentorship panel discussion with other athletes at the adidas Title IX celebration. (Noam Galai/Getty Images for adidas)

While neither Dorsey nor Onumonu sugarcoats the club’s recent challenges, both see the team’s potential. When the squad’s off-field chemistry does coalesce, Dorsey says, “everybody’s going to know it.”

Onumonu rejoined Gotham this month after making a run to the semifinals of the Women’s Africa Cup of Nations with her Nigerian national team and clinching a World Cup berth in the process. Nigeria’s campaign ended in a chaotic matchup against the hosts, in which two Super Falcons players were handed red cards, forcing Nigeria to play two down for 60 minutes.

Onumonu, though, has gotten used to being adaptable.

“I made a goals book for the beginning of the year, but I have learned now in my career that things don’t always go as planned, so it’s always having to readjust,” she said. “We’re at a turning point, so it’s like I have to decide now how much am I willing to give in order to get us to where we want to be.

“I can’t guarantee that the wins are going to come immediately, but that’s going to be my goal every game is that I have to give everything I have in order to get us to where we want to be.”

Looking ahead, Dorsey and Onumonu are empowered by their work off the field with BWPC, and humbled by their impact on the lives of the girls they’ve worked with.

On the pitch, in their unique position as young veterans, they have learned there are no sure things. Keeping their heads down, they’ll continue to stay the course.

“In this league, all I can really do is look at the next game,” Dorsey said.

Clare Brennan is an Associate Editor at Just Women’s Sports.

Canada and Nigeria played to a 2-2 draw on Monday in the second of two friendlies between the women’s national teams.

Ifeoma Onumonu got Nigeria on the board first in the fifth minute, putting one past Canadian keeper Kailen Sheridan thanks to a tricky backheel.

While Canada continued to press and control the play, frustration mounted for the home team. While Christine Sinclair got one back in the 48th minute – and her 189th international goal – Rasheedat Ajibade struck four minutes later for Nigeria to make it 2-1.

A late goal by Shelina Zadorsky in the 88th minute off a cross from Janine Beckie helped the Canadians avoid the 2-1 loss.

“There were a lot of positives from this game, but it was frustrating,” Canadian coach Bev Priestman said. “We had something like 20 shots, but couldn’t find the back of the net. These two games in B.C. were valuable exercises. We saw the real Nigeria tonight.”

The two teams played in front of a sold-out crowd of 5,434 in British Columbia, with Canada totaling 19 shots to Nigeria’s six.

Canada won the first friendly by a score of 2-0.

NJ/NY Gotham FC has made major moves over the past few days, re-signing Ifeoma Onumonu and Midge Purce while extending Kristie Mewis.

The club announced Thursday that it had re-signed Onumonu on a one-year deal. Drafted eight overall in the 2017 NWSL Draft, the forward joined Gotham in 2020. In 2021, she made 25 appearances for the club, scoring eight goals and four assists on the year.

“Ify is everything you want in a 9 in this league,” said head coach Scott Parkinson. “Across goals and assists, she was one of the most productive players in the league. To have her lead our front line for years to come is great news to everyone here at Gotham FC.”

Also re-signing with the club is Purce on a two-year contract. The ninth overall pick in the 2017 NWSL Draft, Purce also arrived via a trade in 2020.

She’ll return for her sixth NWSL season following a 2021 campaign that saw her lead Gotham FC with nine goals while adding one assist and finish second in the race for the NWSL Golden Boot. She started in all 18 of her appearances and logged 1,477 minutes on the pitch.

“Midge is everything we want to be on and off the field,” said Parkinson. “She’s a smart and intelligent footballer that can defend from the front for 90 minutes and is a constant threat when we have the ball. She’s a tough player for teams to silence and we are ecstatic she wants to play her football here in NJ and NY.”

Gotham FC newcomer Kristie Mewis, who was acquired via a trade with San Diego this offseason, was announced to have signed a deal that will keep her with the club through 2024.

Mewis spent the past four seasons with the Houston Dash, logging six goals through 38 appearances. She was also a member of the USWNT team that won bronze in the Tokyo Olympics last summer.

NWSL preseason is slated to begin Feb. 1 but players have recently threatened to not report if a new CBA is not in place by then.

While other young American athletes dreamed of playing professionally, Ifeoma Onumonu and Imani Dorsey of NJ/NY Gotham FC never grew up envisioning that future for themselves. Not only was soccer expensive, but it was also difficult to picture being a pro given the lack of prominent Black female soccer players.

While girls’ participation in sport is generally limited by a lack of exposure to female athletes and coaches as role models, the drop-out rate for girls of color in urban and rural centers is twice that of suburban white girls, according to the Women’s Sports Foundation.

“Growing up, most of my role models were men, white men, because there weren’t many other Black female athletes like us,” says Onumonu. “We were the minorities in this sport. And because of that, we never thought we’d be in this position today.”

Onumonu and Imani are both board members for the Black Women’s Player Collective, whose mission is to lift the image, value and representation of Black women as athletes and leaders.

Founded in October 2020, in the wake of George Floyd’s murder and a summer of national protests, the BWPC is made up of seven board members, 38 members and 15 advocates. Its roster includes all 43 Black women competing in the NWSL as of 2020.

For both Omunonu and Dorsey, the Collective gives them a chance to confront and address the racial inequity that has long persisted in one of the country’s most popular sports.

“Growing up in a predominantly affluent white area, it felt like I had to hide or downplay my Blackness to fit in, since I was one of few,” says Dorsey. “I had to make things that were different about me from others in my group feel less intimidating. That meant not really speaking up on Black issues that were in the news and that my family was speaking about very regularly. I was not really talking about those topics with my teammates.”

Dorsey says she often had to overlook comments about being an ‘Oreo’ — Black on the outside but white on the inside.

“Now I feel like I can reclaim that part of my identity and celebrate it, but not just as myself but as a group with the Black community,” she says.

Onumonu says her experience was similar.

“I used to just let things slip, let them slide off my back and not bring them up in efforts to stay a part of the group. I think that was damaging to myself and my self-esteem and impacted how I was playing the game and how I performed in the game,” she says.

“Now I feel like I no longer have to do that because I have such a powerful group behind me that supports me. There’s power in numbers and there’s power about talking about these issues.”

This week, the BWPC’s ranks expanded when it announced a long-term partnership with adidas. Together, the Collective and adidas will host soccer clinics and programming for girls aged eight to 15 in cities such as Atlanta, Durham, Orlando and Houston.

The BWPC and adidas, alongside the U.S. Soccer Foundation, Black Players for Change and Musco Lighting, have also committed to building 12 new mini pitches in predominantly Black communities across the U.S. by 2022.

It’s a first step, but a big one, toward making soccer a more accessible game for all.

Dorsey, who grew up in Maryland, shifted from recreational soccer to travel teams around the age of eight. Even then, it was clear to her that the expenses of competing were a prohibitive burden on families. For a chance at a full-ride scholarship in college, parents had to invest in high-level training for their children, starting in grade school.

Thankfully Dorsey, who ended up at Duke, was able to find opportunities in the national program, increasing her exposure to elite competition. But given that only a tiny percentage of soccer players ever have the privilege of wearing the crest, she knows her path isn’t a sustainable solution.

“[Soccer’s] an expensive sport and I think that’s something that we need to change, whether that means providing scholarships for players or redesigning the entire pay-to-play model,” says Onumonu, who was also in the U.S. youth national program, played collegiately at Cal and is now a member of the Nigerian national team.

“The path I had was one that I had the privilege to have, but I know that’s not necessarily the story for everyone,” she says. “And I think that’s why so many Black girls miss out on the opportunity that soccer can bring. I hope our work with the BWPC and adidas can inspire young girls to do whatever it is that they set their mind to.”

Alongside their new partnership, the BWPC is also rolling out a new logo. The vibrance of the logo represents the boldness and disruption of the organization’s mission, with a tilted “W” to signify the Collective’s ascendant ethos and spirit. The warm color palette is meant to represent the players’ love for their sport.

“I’m constantly inspired by the incredible women in the BWPC on a personal level,” says Dorsey. “It’s something that is really close to my heart and I’m even more thankful to our fans who have been so supportive along the way.

“I want to encourage young girls to learn and grow from their teammates, because what I love so much about soccer is my team, and having that friendship is so important to me. Looking back, I wish I was brave enough to let my Blackness be a part of that for more of my teammates, and shed light to hopefully teach other young girls that it’s okay to have a different perspective.”

It’s been a busy couple weeks for Dorsey, who is also a part of the NWSL Players Association, which been working around the clock with players and the league in order to implement immediate and long-term changes in the wake of the Paul Riley scandal.

In this context, the BWPC’s momentum and groundbreaking partnership with adidas is providing a ray of hope in an otherwise difficult time for women’s soccer.

“Our formation as an organization gave us the realization of the power that we have together and that we should be able to openly talk about our experiences as Black women, because that is something we haven’t had the opportunity to do before,” says Dorsey.

“I think that collective power should really inspire young girls to be proud of who they are and being unapologetic about their Blackness and their experiences, regardless of what it is.”

You can learn more about the BWPC’s mission here and donate directly to the Collective here.

Jessa Braun is an editorial intern for Just Women’s Sports. She is also the Head of North American Content for the Women’s Sports Alliance. You can find her on Twitter @jessabraun.

Gotham FC held off an energized OL Reign on Saturday night to pull out a 1-0 victory at Red Bull Arena.

OL Reign created plenty of chances early, one of the best coming from a link-up between Megan Rapinoe and Rose Lavelle in the seventh minute. Lavelle found Rapinoe on the flank and she cut inside, but her low shot was denied by the post.

The game’s lone goal came off a Gotham FC corner in the 13th minute. Ifeoma Onumonu put her side up 1-0 when she rose above a cluster of defenders to head Caprice Dydasco’s cross into the left corner of the net.

Gotham FC’s 1-0 lead endured for the remainder of the game, but OL Reign didn’t let up on the attack. Lavelle and Rapinoe were a dangerous combination, pressuring Gotham’s back line until the final whistle.

Lavelle has galvanized OL Reign’s offense in her two games with the club, but the team hasn’t been able to convert in the final third.

Gotham FC’s defense once again won the match, fending off a barrage of OL Reign opportunities. The club has allowed just one goal during the regular season.

After the international break, OL Reign will head to North Carolina to face the Courage on June 19. Gotham FC will travel to Orlando to play the Pride on June 20.