[dropcap]A[/dropcap]fter four years in Florida State University’s women’s soccer program, renowned for using talent from various countries, I grew accustomed to playing with, learning from, and befriending top international players from around the world. There was really no locational parameter that head coach Mark Krikorian set when it came to recruiting players. And as I understand it now, some of these international players actually reached out to Mark, and still do, after hearing via word of mouth that Mark and the school have a lot to offer. I definitely take pride in the reputation of the program but I’m also grateful that it enlightened me as to why soccer is considered the world’s game.
After four years in a program rich with international players, I had been rostered with teammates from every continent except Africa. Going on now four years later, and I still haven’t encountered anyone quite like Francisca Ordega, who I played with on the Washington Spirit in the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL).
Some know her more simply as Franny and on the rare, silly occasion, I refer to her as Fran-Fran. She’s that kind of person that garners a lot of nicknames (all loving) from her teammates. Franny entered the world stage at the ripe age of 17 when she was rostered for the Super Falcons of Nigeria, her birth country, in the 2011 World Cup.
At the next World Cup, I had the opportunity to watch Franny, my then teammate for the Spirit, score a goal against Sweden in what was an extremely thrilling back and forth game. The Super Falcons on the field and the faithful following who were in the stands for that game demonstrated a type of energy that I hadn’t witnessed before, and it gave me a better picture of what Franny was like and why. The raw talent and speed of some of the Nigerian players was exciting to watch and I found myself hoping they’d win so I could see the sea of green erupt from across the stadium. With the Spirit, we hadn’t yet had the chance to completely crack Franny’s shell in her first season (2015), but that game was a great indication of what was to come from her.
Later that same season, following her personally successful World Cup stint, Franny returned to Washington. From my perspective, she was still young, but she had lived in several different countries by that point in her career. As I came to know her, Franny told me that she owned a house in Nigeria and a lot of her family lived in it. She has 11 siblings. She told many of us that we should come and visit her in Nigeria and that there were many beautiful spots. She already spoke great English, but even in her first year she was still very shy. She also knows African dialects and on the regular occasion that she was phoning home, we’d hear just how much and how fast she could talk.
It wasn’t long after she returned from the 2015 tournament that Franny also experienced a tragedy within her family. Her sister passed away while Franny was in D.C. She was actually just down the road from me where she lived with another international, Laura del Rio, at their host family’s house when she found out. It was devastating news to Franny and recalling those moments now, the grief that she felt was most likely exacerbated having been thousands of miles from home in a foreign country. She didn’t let the tragedy dim her light, though, and has dedicated goals to her late sister.
Fast forward another four years, and we’re preparing to tune into what could be the most watched Women’s World Cup. The time in between tournaments has passed by right before our eyes with a lot of steps in the right direction. I’ve had the pleasure of watching Franny grow up day by day and mature into a player Nigeria and Africa can be proud of.
And yet still at a young age, Franny has committed lots of time and energy off the field into her Francisca Ordega Foundation that supports children in Nigeria through soccer and education. Franny has also continued to grow her soccer resume while playing in Spain, Australia, and currently China, in addition to her time in the NWSL. In doing so, she has managed to interact with all kinds of players and coaches and fans, all of whom I’m sure have Franny stories of their own. People gravitate toward Franny most likely because she is undeniably one of a kind. Her active social media presence only gives you a snippet into what every day is like, I promise!
She never failed to bring a smile or a laugh to our dressing room. Even as we emailed back and forth for this article, I recalled all of my own stories about Franny. Her video about her “Christmas hair” that I can still to this day hear her saying into the camera. Her epiphany that Maddie is my sister at the end of August last season (She just thought Maddie and I had the same last name). The misunderstanding about how many uncles she had in D.C. (Uncle is a term and a show of respect to an elder). The dance moves in addition to the goal celebrations, which are one in the same. Her ability to sleep anywhere. The face she made after her first taste of coffee. There’s too many to share here, but if you come across someone who knows or has played with Franny, ask them for a story, they won’t be short on them and it’s sure to make you smile or laugh.
You’ll be entertained this summer and I hope that Franny is one of the reasons why. If you want to be inspired, follow the Super Falcons and check out their loyal and energetic fans who are sure to be in the stands. I’m so grateful I got to play alongside a player like Franny. Getting to know her and about Nigeria is something I didn’t have the opportunity to do before Franny came along. I’m not entirely sure if Franny is indeed one of a kind in Nigeria, but the world could do with a few more people like her.
Editor’s note — This interview has been edited for clarity.
Tori Huster: How do you think this Women’s World Cup will be different to previous World Cups?
Franny Ordega: Because all the countries are coming out stronger, before it’s hard to compete with the likes of America, Germany, Brazil…but now, you can’t really predict who is gonna win.
Huster: Which players or team are you most excited to play against?
Huster: Which players from your own team should we be on the lookout for to make a big impact?
Ordega: Asisat [Oshoala], Desire [Oparanozie], and me, of course.
Huster: When people watch you play, what do you hope you inspire within them? What do you want to be seen from your play?
Ordega: I want them to see a girl from a little community carving ways [paths] for others, a girl who never gives up no matter the situation of the game, the girl who wants to improve and strive to be better.
Huster: You have played on several continents now, how is it playing in China in comparison to America and Europe?
Ordega: There is no comparison. So far, America league is the best of all time.
Huster: You love to dance and sing! Why do you enjoy that so much?
Ordega: Because it gives me joy and of course makes others happy too (smile)!
Huster: Favorite song at the moment?
Ordega: “Okay” by OD Woods.
Huster: Favorite female soccer player?
Ordega: Samantha Kerr.
Huster: Favorite male soccer player?
Huster: Favorite pro soccer team?
Huster: Favorite type of goal celebration?
Huster: What did you want to be when you were growing up?
Huster: What do you do in your free time?
Ordega: Watch movies or sleep.
Huster: What do you want to do when you retire from soccer?
Ordega: Probably go into acting.
Huster: Most memorable goal you’ve scored?
Ordega: The 2015 Women’s World Cup goal against Sweden.
Huster: Favorite city you’ve visited?
Ordega: Sydney in Australia.
Huster: Favorite food?
Ordega: Pounded yam, an African dish.
Ordega and the rest of Nigeria’s National Team open up group play against Norway on June 8 in Reims.