Winger Gboly Ariyibi, 20, Provides U.S. With Width
October 09, 2015
ON SATURDAY the United States U-23 team will get its shot at a spot in the 2016 Olympics—a semifinal match against Honduras (3pm ET, Telemundo). So far the Americans have impressed in the tournament, going undefeated despite playing a few who are new to the international stage.
Like Chesterfield FC winger Gboly Ariyibi, 20, for example: After making his U.S. debut and notching an assist as a second-half substitute in the opening 6-1 win over Cuba, Ariyibi contributed to three tallies in Tuesday’s 4-0 win over Panama.
His nice run of form has been welcome news for head coach Andi Herzog, who lamented prior to the tournament that most of the midfielders in his pool tend to play centrally.
“I was confident before the game," Ariyibi told American Soccer Now from Salt Lake City. "The manager gave me a lot of confidence. My role is to give the team width as well as be an attacking option. I think we're really high on confidence. We've gone three for three. You could say we've won them comfortably.
"Everybody really wants to do one thing, and [that’s to] make history.”
Ariyibi first joined the U.S. program for a U-20 camp in 2014 in Argentina. It was his last activity with the program for the rest of the cycle, but he returned to youth national teams last month for the U-23s’ final camp before the start of qualifying, scoring an 86th-minute goal in a 2-0 win over Qatar.
Like many dual nationals who have been brought into the U.S. system over the past decade, Ariyibi has spent very little time in the country. His parents, both Nigerian, would often visit the United States to see his aunt in Arlington, Va., though, and it was on one of these trips stateside—in January 1995—that Ariyibi was born. Two months later, he and his parents left for England.
It wasn’t until Ariyibi was 14 that he would return to the States again for an appearance at the Dallas Cup while playing for Southampton’s youth teams. Olympic qualifying marks only the second time he’s been back.
“Obviously it's been great to come back here,” Ariyibi said. “I don't get many opportunities. When I was younger and I came over, I wouldn't have thought a lot of it then. But now I'm older, and I see things. It's a great country and I am proud to represent it. It's been a great experience, and the players have welcomed me.
“I've gotten used to speaking with a bunch of players who are in MLS, the fans, people—it's a good look. I watch a bit of MLS, and some of the players here are in the league and I like to keep up with it. It's good and something you look forward to in the future. You never know what could happen.”
Indeed, there are plenty of possibilities these days for Ariyibi, now a regular on the wing for Chesterfield. As with many young professionals, success did not come easy for him.
After eight years affiliated with Sunderland, Ariyibi was released in 2013. In his quest for a new club, he went through five trials before eventually signing a brief contract with Leeds United. After a few first-team appearances in early 2014, he was loaned to Tranmere Rovers in League One for the rest of the season.
During the offseason, Ariyibi signed with Chesterfield, which is currently playing in League One and has a history that dates back nearly 150 years. Since joining he has made 27 appearances for the midtable club.
The ups and downs have “helped a lot, but at the same time I've always believed in my ability and that's something that can take you a long way,” he explained. “Regardless of the setbacks, you know what you're capable of and what you bring the team. Coming from Southampton, a lot of players find it hard to get back on track after being released.
“But I went and had a lot of trials. I was determined. Things don't always work out, but I got signed at Chesterfield, and that gave me stability, and along with that came confidence through games. I started to show that and better things have come. It was frustrating, but it's something [where] if you want to pursue your dreams, then you're going to do anything.”
With only Honduras standing between Ariyibi and Olympic qualification—he’s getting very close to one such dream.
“Everybody's grown up watching the Olympics, and it's one of the biggest competitions out there,” Ariyibi said. “It'd be a dream for anybody, and it means a lot to me to be involved. When I got my first U-23 call-up I was quite surprised. But I've come here and I've tried to make a statement.”