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Year Two with Sporting KC’s Willy Agada

The power of grace.

It has to be exhausting. Tracking here, tracking there. Feeling the traces. Knowing, or at least thinking it, because he makes you think it. He’s compact, has that low center of gravity that makes moving him difficult. Then, he can blast by you. It is going to happen. It is inescapable.

Sporting striker Willy Agada delivered in five of the matches he started late last season after his July arrival in Kansas City. In six, the Nigerian-born did not score, assisting in one. Yet, any striker in the world would take that scoring rate, especially when Agada scored multiple goals in three of those matches. Eight goals and two assists in 819 minutes were the final numbers as Agada helped Sporting KC and its fans end the season with joy and all that was needed after a dismal February through July in MLS: hope for the future.

“Inevitable”? Somewhat lost in sensical, not-getting-carried-away analysis of Agada’s play is that Agada has scored consistently wherever he has gone. With Israeli club Hapoel Jerusalem 2019-20, the then 18-year-old scored 23 goals in 67 appearances. After moving to the Israeli Premier League in 2021, Agada tallied six and helped on four in 25 appearances, lifting Hapoel Haifa above relegation. Rejoining Hapoel Jerusalem in 2022 after they had gained the Premier League, the 5’ 9” 165lbs point man scored eight more times before joining Sporting in the transfer window.

Then, Agada became Kansas City’s Co-Golden Boot winner. Yah, Willy gonna get his goals. Wearing down defenders, coming at them at all different angles and speeds, Agada makes bad things happen. Bad, bad things.

Sure, being 23-years young is part of Agada’s resolute energy. But one’s spirit carries the body and the mind past limits. And Agada’s spirit is infused with grace.

Grace – defined as “undeserved favor” – is a gift not requiring repayment that once recognized becomes an outward force “produc[ing] practical outcomes like fuel for good deeds, enduring suffering, and working hard.”

Grace manifesting as Grit and Gratitude

“I just want to say, ’Thanks’ to my teammates…,” Agada began when speaking during our phone interview last week on what he reflects on most about last season. “Everyone in the team is part of my success. They make me better, always try to talk [to me]. Shout out to the coach [Peter Vermes], also. He tries to make things easy for me. He also tries to control, to balance. If he has something to say to you, he always says it in a way you can understand.”

As first brought to light by Daniel Sperry in The Kansas City STAR, Agada’s road to becoming a professional athlete was setup for failure. The soccer system in Agada’s boyhood city in the Bauchi State of northeastern Nigeria was not full of grace.

“It’s a small city, and it’s hard. Whenever you get your chance, you have to grab it. If you don’t grab it, you have twenty of Willy on the bench waiting,” Agada stated from Arizona (where he is in preseason training with Kansas City) after giving a shout out to all of his youth coaches. “I always remain grateful to God because it’s not been easy. Talent is not enough back home; you need grace.”

Inspired by the grace he had been shown, Agada persevered, eventually becoming a mighty jet – yes, a member of his first professional club, Mighty Jets F.C. of the Nigerian National League.

“Where I come from, I have no reason to be complaining,” Agada told the STAR.

“I always try to give my best,” said Agada. “When I am on the field, I focus and listen to orders, on the field and off the field. At the end of the day, all thanks to God. God goes first.”

Gratitude fostering Learning and Belief

For Sporting fans, the fear of deception is real. Was the late season success – six wins, two draws, and 23 goals in its last 10 matches – of the club they love something they can truly believe in, or is it just another leading to the gallows for their heads swimming with hope in a sport that can be the cruelest of them all?

Sustaining that success becomes the challenge for the club and Agada himself. I asked Willy what the key to sustaining that success is.

“We just need to keep our heads up, all the boys, and we need to remain focused and listen to the coach,” Sporting’s 2022 Co-Newcomer of the Year (with midfielder Erik Thommy) replied. “It’s not going to be easy. But, together, we can do it.

“For me, it’s just to keep learning from the senior ones and remaining focused, knowing that whatever happens, the coach decides, whatever he says, we need to trust the process. And we need to take it game-by-game and keep with the hard working and everything will be fine.”

When one lives with gratitude – no matter how many or how few blessings one has – he or she learns joy. And quite simply and quite magically, that mix of gratitude and joy opens one to learning.

That learning, in turn, nurtures belief in oneself, a belief informed by grace that is more like self-trust, not a boasting.

Agada will be in 2023 who he was in 2022.

“[I will] Just keep being me, simple Willy, you know,” Agada said with a chuckle. “Humble Willy on the field and off the field. Keep working hard, listen to the coach, and listen to my teammates.”

Grace Reciprocated

Fans will hope the goals keep coming as they have. Agada’s history, the eye test, and the underlying numbers say they will.

What is truly inevitable – and more valuable – is that Agada will continue to be a transformative influence on his club, on his community, and throughout his life.

Grace knows no borders. Grace transforms. Grace multiplies. Grace is a force, thus Willy Agada is a force.

All fans can ask for from their team is what they give. And Sporting is ready to return what fans give hundredfold. That much is evident in Agada’s response when asked what fans can expect from Sporting Kansas City in 2023:

“Amazing moments. Good performances. I’m telling you; the boys are getting ready right now. It’s not going to be easy for us, but you guys should come out and support,” Agada stated. “And by God’s grace, we will do our best all the time on the field… We will fight for the team, for the club. We will give everything. Every game, [we will work to] take the three points home, game-by-game.”

And from Willy Agada?

“I will always give my best, work for the team, fight for the team,” he vowed. “When my team needs me, I will always be ready to work for the team.”

He finished with that rejuvenating joy.

“Whenever I get an edge, tap it in the [net], and we go to the corner to celebrate. Easy. No pressure, you know,” he said laughing that contagious laugh. “Just keep scoring goals and make the crowd go crazy, yah?”

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Agada’s Quick Hits:

How was the offseason? What did you do for fun and to refresh? “Family. After six years, it is the first time [I have gotten to spend a lot of time with them.].” Agada stayed close to home, but he also traveled a little to see friends in Ghana.

Who is your best friend on the team? “Everyone is my friend on the team.”

Agada gladly reports that “Everything is improving back home… now, whenever you see a player, you can give him more time. [There is more of] ‘You can do it; you can do it.’ Then, it was ‘Do it or the next person will.’”

The competition within the team will be fiercer with Gadi Kinda and Alan Pulido’s eventual return. How will you use that competition to your benefit? “I’m excited to have them back and helping the team.”

What did you miss about KC in the offseason? What is your go-to food in KC? Leans to African restaurants… Chef “Mr. Victor” (Author’s note: I am not sure I got that right.) “I don’t go out too much. Sometimes, I go out to just grab my food and go back home.”

What are your top off the field interests? “Talking with friends, making jokes. They ask, “Did you see any black friends or Nigerians? And they ask how I am doing.” Agada likes to cook a little bit as well.

What is on your playlist right now? Discovered or rediscovered any musical artists lately? Devito. Joeboy, Bonobo.

Favorite moment last season… “What stuck in my head, was when I scored my first goal v. LA [Galaxy].” Celebration with PV after VAR… “When I remember, I just smile. I love that: how it happened and the celebration. Then [for Agada’s second goal of the match], Daniel gave me a nice assist, and I just bury it. It was nice also. [But,] the first goal was an amazing moment.”

Next up: “Year Two with...” Stay tuned.

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