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International Memphis 901FC players break down their journey from overseas

Some Memphis 901FC players had their love of the game land them right here in the Bluff City.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Soccer, or football, is the most popular sport in the world, and in the U.S., it's growing more and more popular by the year.

Children from every corner of the globe grow up with the love of soccer engrained in them. Some Memphis 901FC players had their love of the game land them right here in the Bluff City.

Leston Paul and David Egbo grew up on opposite sides of the Atlantic, but both share that same obsession with the world's most popular sport, the beautiful game of soccer.

Paul grew up playing in his hometown of Mayaro, on the island of Trinidad and Tobago. He and his friends would play pick up on the side of the street in parks.

"There's a recreation ground where I moved to," Paul said. "I had a friend, a close friend of mine, who used to play for a team there at the time ... I started playing from then-organized football at the age of 12."

Paul has been a member of the Trinidad and Tobago national team for almost 20 years.

"And then I moved on from them," Paul said. "At the age of 14, I made my first national team at the U-15. It has been a ride since then."

The midfielder led his team to the under 17 FIFA World Cup and later, the under 20 World Cup in 2009. His standout play in 2009 caught the attention of the University of South Florida.

"And then my mom was like, 'You've got to go to college,'" Paul said.

He excelled at USF, earning Rookie of the Year honors in 2010. Paul graduated in three years and went back to his home country to play professionally. After playing in the Caribbean from 2014 to 2018, Paul was scouted by former 901FC General Manager Andrew Bell and signed with the club in 2019. 

Since then, the now-32-year-old has been named captain and is one of the integral leaders of the team.

"It's always an honor to be part of this team, this franchise from day one to now to be called Captain," he said. "Anywhere I go, I've always tried to lead."

Across the Atlantic, David Egbo, 23, born in Kaduna, Nigeria, has a similar story.

It's actually funny because growing up in Nigeria, the first sport you learn is football," Egbo said. "It's weird if someone's not playing football, that's how much it is a sport in that country. I think I was blessed to be born in a country that loves the sport and has really devoted their time to the sport."

Egbo went from playing with his friends to playing for the Pepsi Academy in Nigeria. The forward eventually earned a scholarship that's given to young Nigerians who excel at both sports and studies. 

That scholarship brought him to the U.S.

"At a very young age, my goal was to just play professional soccer," he said. "To be honest, I never actually wanted to come to the U.S. ... I went, I came to the U.S., and it was the best decision I've ever made my entire life, hands down."

When the young Nigerian came to the U.S., he noticed the amount of training grounds and soccer facilities readily available.

"We play on sand, like it's any good field you see," he said. "It's pretty locked up. You can find thousands of fields like this just in the state of Mississippi alone. I was talking to the whole country as a whole."

David was a standout in high school, which led him to a collegiate career at the University of Akron.

The forward scored 21 goals and provided 13 assists in 56 appearances for the Zips in three seasons. He was unable to play his senior year due to COVID-19. In 2021, he was selected ninth in the MLS Super Draft by the Vancouver Whitecaps.

Right now, Egbo is on loan to 901FC to help him develop his skills.

"I wouldn't change my time in Memphis for anything," he said.

Egbo and Paul took different paths, but at the end of the day, their hard work and grit led them to professional soccer. It was a grit that was manifested at an early age, and one that matches the Memphis grind.

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