Athlete of the Week: Uzo finds second home in MB

Myrtle Beach Mutiny striker Toby Uzo came to the Grand Strand from his hometown of Houston in 2015 hoping to find a path to the next level of soccer. It turns out he also found a second home and a second family to help him pursue his dream.

“I came here my last year of college because Coastal Carolina is a very good program,” said Uzo, who was voted the Mammy’s Kitchen Athlete of the Week after leading the Mutiny to the PDL South Atlantic championship. “It was smart to finish up college here because it is a top 25 program and scouts were coming to see my games, but now I feel like I’ve been here for a long time. The people, my coaches, my teammates, my church – this feels more like home than Houston.”

After a successful senior season at CCU, Uzo was drafted by Orlando City SC and appeared to be on his way. But the combination of injuries, increased competition and a lack of experience playing at the next level conspired to send Uzo back to the Grand Strand with some more work to do before joining the pro ranks. He has found it with his new hometown team, the Myrtle Beach Mutiny, which helped lead to a 10-1-3 record and a South Atlantic division title in the PDL.

“I did have injured left and right knees when they drafted me, but I thought I was healthier after season. They were still hurting a little bit, but I don’t think that was the reason i got cut,” he said. “I wasn’t used to the intensity at that level. I should have been more ready for that, but this has been a great learning experience for me. No regrets.”

Instead of getting down, Uzo used it as an opportunity to lift himself back up. He began a rigorous training program that saw him drop 30 pounds, improve his speed and quickness, and above all, find a group of teammates and a support system that has him playing the best soccer of his career. His 13 goals and three assists tie him for second in the league in scoring, and the Mutiny carries a 10-game unbeaten streak into the PDL Eastern Conference Final Four this weekend.

“The trials I have had in the past have shaped me into where I am today,” he said. “I used the time to work on stuff individually, technically, fitness, everything. My knowledge of the game is at another level than before, and I would say 60 to 70 percent of it has been all mental. Of course, I owe a lot of it to my coaches and teammates. We have a team that just clicks, everyone gets along together. I couldn’t do it without my teammates and that chemistry helps so much.”

Not only has Uzo been turning heads after being rated as one of the top prospects in the PDL, but he and his Mutiny teammates have also been making a statement in their inaugural season in the league. After making the move from the NPSL to the PDL this season and undergoing a massive roster makeover, many expected the Mutiny to experience the same growing pains while adjusting to the more competitive level. Instead, Uzo and the Mutiny have shown that they more belong in the big leagues.

“No one gave us any respect, and I don’t blame them for that because it is our first year in league and people say the PDL is harder than (the NPSL),” Uzo said. “We won South Atlantic division and that’s great, but we don’t want to go out. We want to come in and make a statement. We have a lot of players to injuries, but we still have a good solid group and we’re not ready to be out. We’re going for the whole thing. We want to prove to everyone that we are something special.”

Uzo is also hoping to prove the same about himself individually and earn that chance to move up to a level for which he is now fully prepared. But his time with his new team and living on the Grand Strand has given Uzo a new perspective.

“I am thankful for the season I am having but I owe so much of it to my coaches and teammates,” Uzo said. “The success we are having as a team and the work I have done on my game has not gone unnoticed. Teams have reached out and I am getting some opportunities to work out for other teams, but right now my mind is on the playoffs. My goal is to do it for my team.”

Photo courtesy of MB Mutiny

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