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Ike Ugbo’s commitment to Canada is a boost both on and off the field

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Sometimes it has nothing to do with the game itself. Sometimes, whether it’s in sales or sports, it’s about persistence paying off — especially when the odds are stacked against a player or team.

In the case of the Canadian men’s national team, three years of determination secured a commitment from 23-year-old striker Ike Ugbo for this month’s World Cup qualifiers.

Herdman and Canada Soccer were made aware of Ugbo’s potential eligibility for Canada in 2018 through a contact at Woodbridge Strikers, one of Ugbo’s former youth clubs during his younger years in Canada. The federation reached out to Chelsea where Ugbo, then 19 or 20 years old, was playing at the time to inquire about his potential interest in representing Les Rouges.

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Chelsea shut down that notion without Canada Soccer ever speaking to Ugbo about the opportunity.

“They were very clear he was on a pathway with England and that Canada wasn’t an option,” said Herdman. “We had spoken to them about the potential of bringing him into one of our matches in 2018 because we were bringing in a lot of young players at the time. That was sort of stonewalled and it has just been a process of patience over a three-year period.”

Watch Canada’s quest for a World Cup berth on Sportsnet and SN NOW
Canada hosts Mexico in a crucial World Cup qualifying match on Tuesday. Live coverage begins at 8:30 p.m. ET/ 5:30 p.m. PT on Sportsnet and SN NOW.

That patience was rewarded on Nov. 4 when Ugbo finally opted for Canada. The K.R.C. Genk striker was eligible for England and Nigeria through his parents. The Super Eagles were supposedly the favourite to land him as recently as September, according to Goal.com.

However, the recent emergence of young Nigerian strikers might have benefited Canada. Victor Osimhen, Kelechi Iheanacho, Taiwo Awoniyi and Terem Moffi are all involved with Nigeria, are no older than 24 years old and play in top European leagues. It would have been a struggle for Ugbo to earn significant minutes.

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“I spoke to [Herdman] recently,” Ugbo said in an interview with Canada Soccer. “He showed me the ambition of Canada, what he’s trying to get to in the upcoming future. He welcomed me in, he felt like it would be a good place for me, and also me, I felt like it would be a good place for the time and place for the time I am in in my career as well.”

“I know about [Davies and David] personally,” he continued. “Obviously I tracked some of the other players, and I think when I had seen them, and what the team was doing with their past results, definitely swayed my decision.”

This is where joining Canada has multiple benefits. In the current squad, he’s one of only two out-and-out No. 9s along with Lucas Cavallini. Neither Jonathan David nor Cyle Larin are traditional strikers, despite their goal-scoring exploits.

It helps that Canada is progressing as a team as Ugbo joins the fold. There’s a strong possibility that he could play at the next two World Cups, provided the Canadians qualify for next year’s tournament and are granted an automatic berth for 2026 as co-hosts.

Eight days after completing his one-time switch of nationality to Canada, Ugbo debuted for the Red and White in their 1-0 win over Costa Rica. He logged around 14 minutes and showed flashes of what fans can expect from him over the next decade.

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The first noticeable trait in Ugbo’s game is his off-the-ball movement. Even though the ball never reached him in the sequence below, it’s evident how well Ugbo (No. 12, near the centre of the box at the start of the clip), can find space and get in position to score.

A few minutes later, he nearly doubled Canada’s lead with a fierce strike from distance, showing off his predatory instincts in the process.

Even in his early days at Genk, there are many examples of Ugbo’s excellent positioning and anticipation.

It may not always result in a goal, but if a striker can regularly receive these quality opportunities, at least one will go in. Ugbo’s composure should eventually improve, too, now that he is playing with one of Belgium’s biggest clubs.

Considering Ugbo only has around 320 minutes for Genk in all competitions this season, the regularity of promising opportunities he’s logging is encouraging.

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“He likes to play between the two centre-backs, he likes to lead the line, he can run behind the line and stretch the line, which I like,” Herdman said. “I think that is a facet that can help complement other players and the way that we play. Often when we play with that No. 9 in Johnny [David] or Cyle [Larin], they want to be receiving in those pockets of space off the front. At times, we get left with a line that is not stretched. That space doesn’t really open up. I think Ike gives us that opportunity.”

At Cercle Brugge, Ugbo scored an impressive 16 goals in 32 appearances. His underlying numbers in the statistical radar below signify his strengths, which are all related to putting the ball in the net.

“He’s got just that real predatory instinct between the penalty spot and goal,” Herdman said. “All the goals he scores are just clever movements. He gets those positional advantages to create opportunities and that is what you want from a No. 9.”

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Ugbo won’t be too involved in attacking build-up, though he’s not afraid to do so, but with David, Larin and other players who are capable creators, there’s only one primary job for the English-born forward.

Score goals.

That’s why he’s the perfect partner for a David-type forward, who likes to play off a proper No. 9. Leave the grunt work to the Lille man and let Ugbo clean up in the box.

Ugbo’s switch has many Canadian fans wondering how many other dual nationals are eligible for the national team. The likes of Daniel Jebbison, Ferdi Kadioglu, Lucas Dias and Stefan Mitrovic are just a select few who could commit, although there are other factors in play for some players.

“The reality is, if they can play for a bigger association, for many of these agents and players, it’s about the dollars first,” Herdman stated. “That is what I’m learning, it’s a short career and they have to maximize their earnings during that period of time and then when those opportunities sort of diminish, that is where you have real conversations.”

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That is every player’s right.

In the case of Fikayo Tomori, who was born in Calgary and represented Canada’s U-20 team, he was raised in England for the vast majority of his life. Choosing the English national team is understandable. Arsenal youngster Marcelo Flores, eligible for Canada, England and Mexico, is under considerable pressure to represent El Tri from his father. Flores recently received a call-up to Mexico’s U-20 team and scored against Brazil over the weekend.

On the bright side for Canadians, Flores left the door open saying he “will make a decision” on his future after he’s joined a Canada camp.

Some players will ultimately turn down Canada. But the team is now a legitimate option for players with two or more passports. Ugbo’s change of heart signifies that.

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The better Canada performs in qualifying, which could include a win over Mexico on Tuesday night, only bolsters its case.





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How to watch Appalachian State vs. James Madison: NCAA Football live stream info, TV channel, time, game odds

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Who’s Playing

James Madison @ Appalachian State

Current Records: James Madison 2-0; Appalachian State 2-1

What to Know

The James Madison Dukes watched the action from their couches last weekend, but are set to take to the field. James Madison and the Appalachian State Mountaineers will face off in a Sun Belt battle at 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday at Kidd Brewer Stadium. The odds don’t look promising for the Dukes, but the bigger the opponent is, the harder they fall.

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A well-balanced attack led James Madison over the Norfolk State Spartans every single quarter on their way to victory two weeks ago. James Madison claimed a resounding 63-7 win over Norfolk State at home. The game was pretty much decided by the half, when the score had already reached 35 to nothing.

Meanwhile, Appalachian State didn’t have too much breathing room in their contest with the Troy Trojans last week, but they still walked away with a 32-28 victory. Appalachian State QB Chase Brice was slinging it as he passed for two TDs and 279 yards on 34 attempts. Near the top of the highlight reel was Brice’s 53-yard TD bomb to WR Christan Horn in the fourth quarter.

Their wins bumped the Dukes to 2-0 and the Mountaineers to 2-1. Watch the matchup and check back on CBS Sports to find out who keeps up the positive energy and who hits a stumbling block.

How To Watch

  • When: Saturday at 3:30 p.m. ET
  • Where: Kidd Brewer Stadium — Boone, North Carolina
  • TV: ESPN Plus
  • Online streaming: fuboTV (Try for free. Regional restrictions may apply.)
  • Follow: CBS Sports App
  • Ticket Cost: $40.99

Odds

The Mountaineers are a solid 6.5-point favorite against the Dukes, according to the latest college football odds.

The oddsmakers had a good feel for the line for this one, as the game opened with the Mountaineers as a 7.5-point favorite.

Over/Under: -111

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See college football picks for every single game, including this one, from SportsLine’s advanced computer model. Get picks now.

Series History

This is the first time these teams have played each other within the last seven years.



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UTSA vs. Texas Southern: How to watch NCAA Football online, TV channel, live stream info, game time

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Who’s Playing

Texas Southern @ UTSA

Current Records: Texas Southern 1-2; UTSA 1-2

What to Know

The Texas Southern Tigers will take on the UTSA Roadrunners at 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday at Alamodome. Texas Southern isn’t favored, but they just beat the odds in their last game, so don’t count them out.

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The Tigers kept a clean sheet against the Southern University Jaguars last week and took the matchup 24 to nothing. The squad ran away with 21 points in the first half and mostly just sat on those in the second to pick up the victory.

Meanwhile, it was all tied up 17-17 at halftime, but UTSA was not quite the Texas Longhorns’ equal in the second half when they met last week. The Roadrunners suffered a grim 41-20 defeat to the Longhorns. This contest was a close 17-17 at the break, but unfortunately for UTSA it sure didn’t stay that way. A silver lining for them was the play of RB Brenden Brady, who threw one touchdown in addition to punching in one rushing touchdown.

Texas Southern’s win lifted them to 1-2 while UTSA’s loss dropped them down to 1-2. We’ll find out if the Tigers can add another positive mark to their record or if UTSA can shake off the defeat and take the spring out of Texas Southern’s step.

How To Watch

  • When: Saturday at 3:30 p.m. ET
  • Where: Alamodome — San Antonio, Texas
  • TV: STADIUM
  • Follow: CBS Sports App
  • Ticket Cost: $69.00

Odds

The Roadrunners are a big 42-point favorite against the Tigers, according to the latest college football odds.

Bettors have moved against the Roadrunners slightly, as the game opened with the Roadrunners as a 44-point favorite.

Over/Under: -110

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Series History

This is the first time these teams have played each other within the last seven years.



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North Carolina vs. Notre Dame live stream info, TV channel: How to watch NCAA Football on TV, stream online

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Who’s Playing

Notre Dame @ North Carolina

Current Records: Notre Dame 1-2; North Carolina 3-0

What to Know

The North Carolina Tar Heels will be returning home after a two-game road trip. They will take on the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday at Kenan Memorial Stadium after a week off. UNC is expected to win — but not by much — so they will need to come into the game prepared for a fight.

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The Tar Heels beat the Georgia State Panthers 35-28 two weeks ago. Among those leading the charge for UNC was RB Omarion Hampton, who rushed for two TDs and 110 yards on 16 carries. Hampton put himself on the highlight reel with a 58-yard TD scramble in the third quarter.

Meanwhile, Notre Dame netted a 24-17 victory over the California Golden Bears last week. RB Audric Estime and RB Chris Tyree were among the main playmakers for Notre Dame as the former punched in one rushing touchdown and the latter snatched one receiving TD.

Notre Dame’s defense was a presence as well, as it embarrassed California’s offensive line to sack QB Jack Plummer six times for a total loss of 47 yards. It was a group effort with four guys contributing.

The wins brought the Tar Heels up to 3-0 and the Fighting Irish to 1-2. A pair of stats to keep an eye on: UNC enters the matchup with 310 passing yards per game on average, good for 21st best in the nation. But Notre Dame comes into the contest boasting the 34th fewest passing yards allowed per game in the nation at 184. These opposing strengths should make for an exciting matchup.

How To Watch

  • When: Saturday at 3:30 p.m. ET
  • Where: Kenan Memorial Stadium — Chapel Hill, North Carolina
  • TV: ABC
  • Online streaming: fuboTV (Try for free. Regional restrictions may apply.)
  • Follow: CBS Sports App
  • Ticket Cost: $110.00

Odds

The Tar Heels are a slight 2.5-point favorite against the Fighting Irish, according to the latest college football odds.

The line on this game has moved quite a bit since it opened, as it started out with the Fighting Irish as a 1.5-point favorite.

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Over/Under: -110

See college football picks for every single game, including this one, from SportsLine’s advanced computer model. Get picks now.

Series History

Notre Dame have won all of the games they’ve played against North Carolina in the last eight years.

  • Oct 30, 2021 – Notre Dame 44 vs. North Carolina 34
  • Nov 27, 2020 – Notre Dame 31 vs. North Carolina 17
  • Oct 07, 2017 – Notre Dame 33 vs. North Carolina 10



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