Jeff Camarati, UNC Athletic Communications

Houston represents in the ACC

The Houston Dynamo Academy has provided several players with the springboard to the best college soccer conference in the country, with four players competing in the Atlantic Coast Conference this season.

Junior Alex Dixon (North Carolina) and freshmen Sebastien Ibeagha (Duke), C.J. Odenigwe (North Carolina), and Jonny Torres (Wake Forest) have moved on from Houston to play for three of the most prestigious schools in the country. The ACC has consistently produced top soccer talent, including three of the top five picks in the 2010 MLS SuperDraft. Five ACC teams (North Carolina, Maryland, Virginia, Boston College, Duke) are currently ranked in the NSCAA Top 25.

“I think the best thing about playing in the ACC is that it is one of the toughest conferences in the nation,” Torres said. “If you can play against teams like Virginia and Maryland, you can play against anyone in the nation.”

Although they are spread out at three different schools, Dixon, Ibeagha, Odenigwe, and Torres all came in well prepared to compete in the best soccer conference in the country, thanks in part to the Dynamo Academy.

“A very good thing about the Dynamo was the professional environment that we got,” Torres, a graduate of Atascocita High School in the Humble ISD, said. “With it being an MLS team, the environment with the coaches and training is a lot more serious. They get you well prepared for the environment in college.”

Dixon, also from Atascocita, is the lone upperclassmen in the group and one of the Dynamo’s top collegiate prospects. In his first season with North Carolina in 2008, Dixon played in 20 games and scored five goals, third on the team. The Tar Heels made the national championship game but fell short of being crowned champions, losing to Maryland 1-0.

“It was a tough adjustment at first, because the guys were bigger, more physical, and the game was faster,” Dixon said. “I’ve been here for two years now, and I have gotten accustomed to it. I’m loving it here, getting better as a player, and growing.”

In his sophomore season, Dixon earned a starting role and scored eight goals, ranking ninth in the ACC. The highlight of his season came in the NCAA tournament, when he scored in three consecutive games to help the Tar Heels reach the NCAA College Cup, eventually losing to Akron 5-4 on penalty kicks in the semifinals. This season, Dixon has started at forward as UNC leads the ACC with a 5-0 conference record, but he has missed time lately due to a hamstring injury.

Joining him on the North Carolina roster this year is Odenigwe, from Fort Bend Travis High School. Although he has seen limited action – four substitute appearances – as a freshman, the defender is proud of the opportunity to play in the ACC and has been improving his game since he stepped on campus.

“The hardest thing is knowing what you are going to do with the ball before you get it,” Odenigwe said. “It is something that sounds basic, but actually when the game is moving fast, you have to pick up on that and get your head up.”

Of the three freshmen, the 6-foot-1 Ibeagha – a midfielder and defender for the Dynamo Academy from Fort Bend Hightower – has had the greatest impact in college.

"The Dynamo Academy prepared me very well," Ibeagha said. "Although I didn’t like it at the time, they switched me to center back, which is what I play now. It made the transition easier. The physical play has increased, but I am one of the bigger guys, so it is not that much of a transition for me.”

His older brother, Christian, is a senior defender at Duke (Christian is not an Academy product, having gone to college before the family moved to Houston), but the two have rarely been healthy at the same time. After starting and getting injured in the opening game, the younger Ibeagha returned to the lineup to replace his injured brother and has started at center back ever since for the Blue Devils.

While Duke has a 1-2-2 conference record, its results include a road tie against defending national champion Virginia in its conference opener. The Blue Devils lost their head-to-head matchup with rival UNC on September 17 in a nationally televised game, although Sebastien Ibeagha was injured at the time. He is still getting used to seeing former teammates on the opposing sideline.

“It was kind of weird, actually,” Ibeagha said. “Just seeing [Dixon and Odenigwe] in other jersey colors and going in for the tackle like, ‘I don’t want to hurt you,’ is weird.”

Odenigwe, Ibeagha’s center back partner in the Dynamo Academy’s run to the USSF playoffs last year, made his collegiate debut against top-ranked Akron earlier this season. The Tar Heels, however, lost 3-0 to the Zips, by far the most talented team in the country.

Like Ibeagha, Odenigwe is relishing the opportunity to take the field against Torres and Ibeagha, and he is confident in his team’s ability to come through with the victory.

“I am actually looking forward to playing them,” a confident Odenigwe said. “If you are in the ACC and you come to North Carolina, you are going to get worked.”

Torres made his collegiate debut for Wake Forest earlier in the year on September 14 against Charlotte, attempting three shots in 33 minutes of action.

“The debut against Charlotte felt incredible,” Torres said. “It was great to be able to get on and make an impact from the start, getting three shots with two of them on target. I couldn’t have asked for a better start.”

While Wake does not boast an impressive overall record, the Demon Deacons have performed well in the ACC, compiling a 3-1 record. Similar to North Carolina, Wake Forest has had the opportunity to play Akron. Although Torres was not able to get on the field in the 2-0 loss, the experience playing the top-ranked team in the country was of great value.

“I think it gives us a good benchmark of where we stand,” Torres said. “It was good to play against the best team in the country, because we know what to expect later on in the season or in the NCAA tournament when we take on the better teams.”

North Carolina appears to have the upper hand right now in the highly competitive conference, but the majority of teams – including all three with Dynamo Academy representation – will be contenders in the NCAA tournament.

Each member of the Dynamo quartet in the ACC hopes to also be a contender for a professional contract, and they will be evaluated by the first team coaching staff throughout the season and at the Dynamo Academy Showcase in December.