2023 New Player Preview - Sebastien Ibeagha
In our first story series, we'll be introducing fans to the new players joining the squad for the 2023 season. Today's player: Sebastien Ibeagha
Ibeagha started playing soccer in Port Harcourt, Nigeria, where he and his brother played while attending international school. Ibeagha moved to Oklahoma with his family, where he played club and high school soccer. He then moved to Houston in 2008 and played for the Dynamo Academy for two years. His maturation continued with four years at Duke University.
After graduating, Ibeagha decided to take the risk and went to Europe to pursue a soccer career. He signed with AC Horsens in 2013 and became a starter, playing nearly every game in his first year with the club. For the next two years, Ibeagha would be loaned out to Denmark and Iceland, before finally returning stateside and signing with Houston in 2016. During his one year at the club, Ibeagha was loaned to Houston’s USL affiliate Rio Grande Valley Toros FC and NASL club Rayo OKC. Ibeagha finally found success after signing with San Antonio in 2017, where he played 30 games and was named the 2017 USL Defender of the Year.
Ibeagha performance in San Antonio earned him a spot at NYCFC, where he would spend the next three-and-a-half years. He was traded halfway through the 2021 season to LAFC and was instrumental in their Supporters Shield and MLS Cup victory last year.
After the expiration of his contract, Ibeagha became a free agent and signed with FC Dallas in early December.
Position & Style
Although primarily a right-footed player, Ibeagha has played both left and right center back, as well as in the center of a three-at-the-back formation. At 6-foot-2, he doesn’t tower over everyone on the field, but his physicality and athleticism allow him to be really good in the air. His defensive attributes are subpar, but his best defensive performances have come at important moments (such as his stellar performance at last year’s MLS Cup Final). His passing also leaves a lot to be desired.
Ibeagha’s role in the team has been one of the main topics of conversation going into 2023. Many people first saw this signing as an incredible depth piece. But as preseason has gone on, Coach Nico and Sebastien’s rhetoric implies that it’s his spot to lose. Last season, Jose Martinez and Matt Hedges led the defense to the fourth lowest amount of goals conceded in MLS at 37.
So the question on everyone’s mind is can Ibeagha replace Hedges?
The stats aren’t very optimistic.
The center back position comes with a ton of mystery going into 2023. Ibeagha, Nkosi Tafari, Jose Martinez, and Nolan Norris all shared time in the first four preseason games. Coach Nico seemingly hasn’t committed to a starting eleven. It would be foolish to ignore the rumors of FC Dallas signing a center back from Brazil.
Ibeagha’s fate seems to be foggy. He could possibly start alongside Martinez and allow the Spanish defender to play in his more natural left center back position. He could also start alongside Tafari. Tafari and Martinez may secure starting roles, leaving Ibeagha to the bench. Norris starting as much as he has in preseason is another unforeseen wrench.
What is definitely guaranteed is that Ibeagha’s role in the team will change as the season progresses. Watch this space.