Amid a breakout in Hungary, leading scorer Eduvie Ikoba dreams big
October 27, 2022
Among Americans abroad, Hungary has not been a frequent destination. As a young player, Peter Vermes played in the first tier with Gyori. Jacob Wilson played with Vasas in the second tier about a decade ago. Lately, Henry Wingo has played a starting role with reigning champions Ferencvaros.
But now there is an American who is near the top of the NB I scoring lead.
Eduvie Ikoba, 25, is currently one of the breakout players in the league with seven goals from his last seven games for Zalaegerszegi TE (commonly known as ZTE) The Bettendorf, Iowa native is currently in a three-way tie for the scoring lead in Hungary’s top flight and his tall 6’4” frame makes him tough to stop and six of his seven goals have come via a header. This has made him one of the NB I’s breakout stars this season
American forward Eduvie Ikoba was voted the player of the week in Hungary's NB I for his hat trick for ZTE over the weekend. The Iowa-born, Dartmouth College alum is the older brother of current Portland Timbers homegrown Tega Ikoba. pic.twitter.com/DtiQnLy3Rw— Brian ????Pumpkinhead????Sciaretta (@BrianSciaretta) September 6, 2022
“I feel really good right now,” Ikoba told American Soccer Now. “I came back here to ZTE with the idea that I wanted to have the best season possible. I felt like I had the capacity to play like this, but for one reason or another, I haven’t been able to show that in previous seasons. I'm glad that my hard work has been showing off and I hope that more goals are going to come and more success for myself and for our team.”
While college soccer still has good players coming from its ranks – Daryl Dike and Ben Bender have impressed in recent years, Ikoba crafted his trade in the Ivy League with Dartmouth College and had a priority on education. On top of that, top professional players who play all four years of college soccer are rare to come by.
“The good players don’t play in college, they fall behind.”— Stewart Flaherty (@stewartflaherty) July 24, 2022
Eduvie Ikoba played for me in 2018 and graduated with an Ivy League degree. Yesterday he beat AC Milan 3-2 in a preseason friendly.
Any parents interested in help with the college search, feel free to DM me. pic.twitter.com/KyKZu0RH3v
“I was very thankful that I was able to pursue my dreams of playing as a professional while also getting a quality education,” Ikoba said. “It was difficult for me balancing the two, but I think it benefited me greatly because by the time I graduated and came to Europe, I felt like I was very capable of adapting to different environments. I also had confidence in my own ability and the fact that a lot can be accomplished just through hard work and staying disciplined.”
The start to his professional career was tough. During his senior season, Ikoba struggled with multiple hamstring injuries and was limited to just a few games. But he still managed to get an invite to the MLS combine. But he suffered another hamstring injury just two weeks before the combine and he wasn’t at his best.
At the 2019 SuperDraft, he was selected with the 63rd overall pick by FC Dallas. Ikoba reported preseason but he was still not at full fitness and left the Dallas camp without earning a contract. He appreciated that FC Dallas still wanted to help him after he was cut, but he elected to start abroad.
“I was lucky enough to get drafted by FC Dallas and even there I still had issues with the hamstring, and I didn't play or I couldn't train the last week that I was with them,” Ikoba recalled. “They released me and said, okay, maybe it's best for you to go back to university to finish your degree… They were very respectful to me. And I know that if I had been healthy, I could have shown a lot more than I was able to. They were willing to help me maybe find a team in USL or somewhere else. But I was set on going to Europe at that time.”
Ikoba grew up in Iowa with three brothers and two sisters and it was a tough place to develop as a player. The family didn’t have cable to watch a high volume of games. But he became inspired while watching the weekly Premier League games and U.S. national team games where he drew inspiration from Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey. The 2006 World Cup was especially influential on Ikoba and his brothers – most notably his younger brother Tega Ikoba, 19, who is also a center forward and is on a professional homegrown contract with Portland Timbers where made his MLS debut this season.
The two brothers speak often, and Eduvie often serves as his mentor.
The elder Ikboa brother notes how things have changed for the better in the United States and that the young group of players, such as for Tega, have more opportunities domestically than he did growing up. Where as Tega was able to move to Portland and join an MLS academy, such opportunities were not available to Eduvie.
“At this time the big goal for me was to play in Europe and I want to see what exactly I'm capable of doing as a professional,” Ikoba said. “I knew that this was the best option for me. But things have changed in a positive way in the U.S. I see players that are going directly from MLS to having success in Europe. Also players that are coming from Europe or South America that are very talented and regarded highly in their countries, and they're choosing the MLS because they recognize the quality of the league. They see that it's improving and that it is popular not just there, but also internationally now. I don't think that the league is the same as when I was growing up.”
Getting to Europe after the FC Dallas preseason was not easy for Ikoba but he had some luck. His girlfriend at the time was a Hungarian basketball player and through a contact of her family, he was able to secure a trial with ZTE – which was successful.
After one season at ZTE where he scored four goals, Ikoba moved to Slovakia’s top tier for two seasons with Trencin, where he scored five goals in his first season and four goals in his second season. Then this past summer he returned to Hungary with ZTE for his breakout
“I feel more and more of a belief that I can play at a higher level and in bigger leagues, for sure,” Ikoba said. “The good thing about my time in Slovakia was that although I wasn't necessarily able to show improvement through statistics, I feel like all my mental strength grew significantly in this time. I had a lot of difficulties, whether it was injuries, with the coach, or just a lot of different problems - I had to go through them and I think each of them made me stronger. Even before I came back to Hungary. I was a different person than when I left.”
Ikoba now believes that even more is possible with the game and his dreams are now bigger. In just a few short weeks, he will be on a break for the World Cup, and he looks forward to watching all the U.S. team’s games. In the years ahead, he hopes he will get a chance with the team.
“My first goal when I saw professional soccer was to play national team,” Ikoba said. “And later I started to learn about clubs in the Champions League, for example, and all the other clubs. But for me, I feel like it would be great to have the pride of representing your country on an international level...I don't focus on it too much. I'm sure that if I'm able to continue in a positive way, then at some point there's going to be a possibility to experience that dream of mine.”