Ekpo called up to Nigerian national team

Crew MF thrilled with first nat'l team call, but hopes to improve

Emmanuel Ekpo

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Emmanuel Ekpo should be happy after getting his first summons to
Nigeria’s senior national team for a friendly scheduled Aug. 9 vs. Ghana
in London, but the task at hand has him troubled.

The Crew (7-6-7) head into Saturday's match against Portland (8 pm ET, watch LIVE online) in Crew Stadium having scored only once in a 1-2-1 stretch while being blanked in the past two matches.

“I should be contributing more,” the midfielder said. “I can do better
than what I’m doing right now. Obviously playing in the midfield, I’m
trying to create chances for our forwards to score. I’m disappointed
because some of the games we played, especially at home, we lost some
points. We tied some games we should have won.

This has been a transitional season for the 23-year-old Ekpo, a silver
medalist with Nigeria at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.

Coach Robert Warzycha has decided Ekpo is better suited in the middle
than running the flanks and has made him a fixture there as others fall
aside because of injuries or poor play.

Ekpo has appeared in all but one of 20 matches — a suspension at
Vancouver on July 6 due to yellow-card accumulation — and started 16.
His only goal and assist came May 28 vs. Chivas after not registering a
point in 24 games last season.

“He needs consistency,” Warzycha said. “He has some very good games
then some average games. It’s not like his level is dropping
dramatically. Sometimes he’s a little bit off, but his overall
performance and responsibility on the field is better than ever.”

Ekpo knows that by gobbling minutes this season, he was able to attract
the attention of Nigeria coach Samson Siasia, who was his coach for the
Olympics as well.

“If I’m not playing, I wouldn’t get the call,” Ekpo said. “It feels good to finally be called to the senior national team.”

Because the Crew play at Colorado on a Friday (Aug. 5) Ekpo thinks he
will be available that night before heading overseas. He will also be
home for the match Aug. 13 vs. New England.

At this stage, Ekpo needs all the time he can get with his Crew
teammates because the holding midfield spot has been a revolving door.
Kevin Burns, Dejan Rusmir and rookies Rich Balchan and Eric Gehrig
having been paired with him.

“It’s a little bit tougher,” Ekpo said. “Most of the guys are rookies.
Every now and then you’ve got a different guy behind you. You have to
try and understand him better so you can get along on the pitch.”

More changes could be ahead July 30 at Real Salt Lake when Tony Tchani,
acquired from Toronto FC on July 15, is expected to partner with Ekpo
if his ailing right knee heals.

Ekpo joked that he will have no problems sharing space with the midfielder from Cameroon.

“It’s always a rivalry when you play a neighboring country, but the
best rivalry Nigeria ever had is with Ghana,” he said. “But Cameroon
give us a good fight.”