Chituru Odunze was born in Raleigh, North Carolina, but quickly went on a journey that took him to England, then Canada, back to England, and now where he finds himself back in the Carolinas to bring it full circle. The 21-year-old goalkeeper – who goes simply by “C” with coaches and teammates – has recently inked a first-team contract after a brief stint with Charlotte FC’s second team, Crown Legacy.
His return to the Carolinas felt almost destined, given the numerous ties he had to the region. Born in the state, Odunze also had personal connections with some players from his time with the American youth national teams. Additionally, he spent five years with Leicester City, where he first encountered Christian Fuchs and Dean Smith.
“I've always been someone who keeps up with Carolina sports,” he said. “So, when I was playing in England, I was always keeping up with the Panthers and the Hornets. Then, Charlotte announced that they were going to make a team, and I was like, brilliant, another North Carolina team."
“It was definitely something I'd always wanted to be a part of. So, when there was the option to come to Charlotte, it was a no-brainer. I'm really happy about it and excited for what’s to come.”
Odunze joined Crown Legacy late in their season but quickly recognized that something special was being built from the ground up at the Club.
“It was a strong team, and Jose [Tavares] built an unbelievable culture and a team that, to be honest, you don't see much. He created a really good, strong team with a mix of international players and young players like Nimfa [Berchimas]. I couldn’t believe how old he was for such a good player.”
“You could see that with what he did at the U-17 World Cup. It’s a very good culture developed in that team that you'll definitely see a lot of players make that jump [to the first team], because that culture is something that could be an asset.”
Living with fellow goalkeeper Isaac Walker, the winner of Goalie Wars in the 2023 MLS All-Star event, aided Odunze in getting acclimated to his Legacy teammates. Both Charlotte FC and Crown Legacy boast a strong goalkeeper core that is not only competitive but also shares a bond like no other position group.
“The goalkeeper union is one of the strongest bonds in the game... When coming into the first team, training with Aron Hyde, who’s a great goalkeeper coach, one of the best, and other great goalkeepers has been amazing. So, of course, I was able to develop good relationships with them. We speak, we joke around, and it’s really enjoyable.”
Odunze is currently in preseason with his new team as Charlotte FC gears up for their third season in MLS. Eager to make a positive impression, he also aims to build relationships with first-team players and staff, some of whom he already knows.
“I want to come into the team and try and put myself in a good position. I want to really establish myself in this team, so that I can help the team as much as possible. That is definitely the goal of preseason, to just continue to build those relationships and put myself in a good position to make a real impact on the team.”
With a positive atmosphere surrounding the team, Odunze, like many others, anticipates great things not just for himself but also for the team this year.
“I believe that something really special has come to the city of Charlotte and that there's going to be a lot to come.”