Virginia's Agorsor off to a flying start
No one thought Chris Agorsor should play. Well, no one but Chris Agorsor.
With the club national championship on the line in late July, the high school standout from Maryland sat on the bench for the Baltimore Bays. Because Agorsor was diagnosed with a bone bruise and strained knee ligament earlier in the tournament, there was virtually no chance he would be playing.
Ten minutes into the game with his team trailing 1-0 against the Los Angeles Futbol Club, the forward started warming up. Coach Steve Nichols asked his player what he was doing.
"I'm going in," Agorsor said. "I can't let us lose."
His coach contested, urging Agorsor to think about his long-term soccer future. When that didn't work, Nichols pointed out that taking out one of the players on the field might leave the team short a backup if it turned out Agorsor couldn't play with his injuries.
Agorsor remained insistent.
"Well, who am I supposed to take out?" Nichols asked, exasperated.
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"That's why you're the coach," Agorsor said wryly. Agorsor entered the game and later scored a goal and drew the penalty that sent the game into overtime. His team eventually emerged a 4-2 winner against LAFC.
That kind of determination and commitment to his team is why Agorsor, a freshman at the University of Virginia, is one of the most promising players in the nation.
Agorsor spent the summer playing with his club team and surrounded by speculation. The Internet was abuzz about various European clubs' interest in the young prospect. Sevilla, Juventus, Tottenham. Newcastle United. PSV Eindhoven. The list went on. At the same time, the 18-year-old forward had committed to play at UVa.
It became a waiting game to see where Agorsor would end up -- and it wasn't even until August that he knew the answer.
"Quite honestly, it's a decision I just kind of walked in to," Agorsor said. "The way I look at things is if you give it time, where you end up is the place that you're supposed to be. I kind of woke up and it was like, 'I think I need to be at college.'"
It also helped that his parents supported the idea.
"We were confident that whatever decision he made, we'd be fine with it," Agorsor's father, Jim, said. "However, we also said the soccer skills would never leave him and that opportunity would always be there. Leaving college totally out is something you would never recoup.
"The thing with Christopher is over the years we've allowed him to deal with situations, and he takes a mature approach to it."
That's why, when Agorsor approached his parents as a high school sophomore at McDonogh School and asked whether he could combine his junior and senior years, they consented.
"I felt I had done what was necessary for me at that school," Agorsor said. "I wanted something new. I wanted to be challenged. I don't like being restless. For the most part, I felt I was ready for [the next level]."
It's likely his stay at the collegiate level will be even shorter than his stay in high school. Given the amount of interest Agorsor has received from professional clubs, both in the United States and abroad, it's hard to believe he'll spend more than a season in Charlottesville.
But that doesn't mean he isn't looking to make his mark while he's there.
Leading the Cavaliers with three goals in four games, the freshman has clearly shown himself capable of taking that next step -- and erased any worries that Nichols might have had about his injuries affecting him long term. Agorsor cites the experience of compressing his final two years of high school along with a demanding high school and club soccer schedule in helping him make the transition to college.
"It's one of those things that when you finish, you ask yourself, 'How on earth did I finish that?'" Agorsor said. "[But] it was really like, 'What do you want to do with your life in the next couple of months?' I asked the question and went out and did what I needed to do."
He's been focused like that his entire life.
"He likes challenges," his mother, Glenda, said. "When a challenge is put before him, it becomes, 'I've got to get that goal.'"
The U-20 national team player continually rises to meet and reset those high standards. Agorsor was named boys' player of the year by both the National Soccer Coaches Association of America and Gatorade last season, but came into the collegiate preseason expecting that he would have to prove -- and improve -- himself.
"He's a confident kid, but not a prima donna," Virginia coach George Gelnovatch said of Agorsor. "He was the top high school player in the country, yet he likes to learn and he wants to get better. He's going to help us on the field. It's clear he's already a leader."
Everyone around him agrees it's those leadership abilities that really set the forward apart. It's a role Agorsor takes to heart and comprehends better than most.
"You don't have to be at the forefront telling people what to do," he said. "A lot of it is just your work ethic, how you're treating others, the way you just go about your business. That's the attitude I take on to the team. Leaders don't necessarily know everything, so I'm trying to learn whenever I can. That's the biggest thing. It's understanding what it means to be a leader, and a lot of times, it's just by example.
"There are some things about my personality that I can't hold back. If I want to speak up, I'll say what need be. But a lot of the time I'm trying to learn and maintain the level I'm at right now."
That kind of insight was chief among the qualities are what made him a "clear-cut winner" as Gatorade's player of the year, according to Gatorade representative Liz Prassas, who oversees the award.
"Chris not only has a ton of leadership qualities, but he just has the ability to draw people in," Prassas said. "He had been on our radar for quite some time. Not just because of his accomplishments internationally [as a member of the youth national team] but at the same time, his focus was on his team and ensuring that his No. 1 priority was his team."
That was on full display as he led his club team to a national title less than two months ago. Now, it's on full display at Virginia.
Maria Burns Ortiz covers college soccer for ESPNsoccernet. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.