SAN DIEGO — The all-time leading goal scorer for Appalachian State men’s soccer and the NCAA, Thompson Usiyan, died at 65 on Aug. 31.
Usiyan played as a striker for the Mountaineers from 1977-80 where he scored 109 goals in 49 games. Usiyan was later inducted into the App State Athletics Hall of Fame in 1989.
A year before joining the Mountaineers, the young Nigerian joined his national team for the trip to the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal. While the team did not compete due to a boycott of the games by African and Arab nations, Usiyan opted to stay in North America and get an education.
“Thompson came to Appalachian State through the keen eye of coach Vaughn Christian,” former Mountaineers coach Hank Steinbrecher said. “He recruited Thompson from the Olympic Games in Montreal. Thompson came to the U.S. to receive an education, not play ball. He took his academics very seriously.”
Steinbrecher, who coached Usiyan from 1978-80, said he remembers Usiyan first and foremost for being a “good man,” who was a kind and considerate teammate.
“To say I inherited a diamond is an under-statement,” Stenbrecher said.
He added that while he remembers Usiyan for the person he was, he also remembers him as the best college soccer player Steinbrecher had ever seen.
“His exploits on the pitch playing for Appalachian State are legendary, he still holds the national record for goals scored in an NCAA Division I playoff game, seven against George Washington,” Stenbrecher said. “I have seen him almost single-handily win games. Time and again, when we were down, Thompson would grab the game by the throat and score. When we played against George Mason, we were down a goal with only minutes remaining. Thompson demanded the ball. Unbelievably, he dribble past 10 players, beat the goalkeeper and we won in overtime.”
Godwin Dudu-Orumen, executive chairman of the Edo State Sports Council in Nigeria, said in a statement that Usiyan was “the best striker ever to play for Nigeria.”
“He could create chances for himself, dribbled well, headed well and could shoot with both feet,” Dudu-Orumen said. “He was very skillful and technically gifted.”
After leaving App in 1981, Usiyan spent 14 years playing professionally in indoor and outdoor socce leagues around America.
His most prolific seasons were his two seasons with the San Diego Sockers of the Major Indoor Soccer League from 1991 to 1993. In 84 games for the Sockers, Usiyan recorded 87 goals.
In 1992, the Sockers finished with a record of 26-14, best in the league, and won the MISL Championship. Usiyan was named the championship’s MVP.
Years after coaching Usiyan to a legendary collegiate career, Steinbrecher was named Secretary General of the United States Soccer Federation in 1990. In his decade in the role, he oversaw the hosting of the 1994 FIFA World Cup, the 1996 Summer Olympics Soccer Tournament and the 1999 FIFA Women’s World Cup.
Also part of his duties was overseeing the U.S. national teams, which included the 1999 U20 team’s trip to the 1999 FIFA World Youth Championship in Nigeria.
“When the United States U20 team played their World Cup in Nigeria, there were a number of issues with security and the host nation,” Steinbrecher said. “As Secretary General of U.S. Soccer, I sought (Usiyan) out. I asked him if he could travel with our team to Nigeria and serve as our Head of Delegation. It was a good choice, Thompson was still a hero back in Nigeria.”
Steinbrecher said Usiyan was unforgettable as a player and person.
“If I close my eyes, I can see Thompson blazing down the sideline of the stadium, leaving opponents in his dust,” Steibrecher said. “I can see his smile.”