East Metro boys soccer Player of the Year: Eastview’s Asher Ozuzu

Asher Ozuzu was pushing his way through tears in the Class 3A, Section 3 final two weeks ago. Eastview’s senior forward sprained his ankle just 17 minutes into the contest. The ankle started to swell immediately.

“I fell on it, and it just popped,” he said. “And I was like, ‘I can’t play anymore.’ ”

But then he looked at his teammates and decided not playing wasn’t an option. And, post ankle sprain, Eastview’s primary offensive threat still found a way to score.

“I wasn’t even running, I was limping,” he said. “The ball was played to me and I just jumped. And I was like, ‘No way I just scored that.’ ”

That was Eastview’s lone goal in its 2-1 section final loss to Rosemount. But though the Lightning’s season ended earlier than they’d hoped, Ozuzu was proud that his team — including himself — left everything on the field.

“I think if he would’ve gone down and not be able to play, that would’ve been a huge morale hit to the team,” Eastview coach Scott Gustafson said. “To watch him have the maturity and that drive to gut it out, that was something that we maybe haven’t seen in years past.”

That maturity, displayed in on and off the field, is where Ozuzu felt he grew the most during his three years at Eastview. With his school-record 39 goals and seven assists, the senior forward is the Pioneer Press East Metro boys soccer Player of the Year.

His growth is what led him to these heights. That growth was born out of a willingness to lead. Gustafson noted Ozuzu was a player in transition as a sophomore, who was adjusting to a new, struggling team. There were high expectations for the forward’s junior season, but the early part of the campaign was derailed by fitness issues, nagging injuries and commitment.

There were no such problems this fall because Ozuzu dedicated himself to being an example. The captain thrived in a leadership role and loved being the one his younger teammates could come to if they needed advice. That responsibility is earned through actions. Those consistent actions helped turn Ozuzu into an unstoppable force.

“Because I know for sure that talent was what was always in me, but then the maturity comes with working harder in practice and stuff like that,” he said. “That really brought it out in me; the more I work, the more I’m this role model for my team and stuff. To have players looking up to you, it feels really good.”

The senior is still weighing his collegiate soccer options, with designs on one day playing professionally. A physical specimen, he was playing in the perfect system with the perfect supporting cast to flourish this fall.

For instance, Ozuzu and midfielder Nick Karam developed a successful system when looking to go on the attack.

When Karam had the ball, Ozuzu would shout “Nick, Nick” to inform the midfielder he wanted the pass to go over the top. When Ozuzu wanted the ball down at his feet, he would say “Nick” only once. And every time the pass did come over the top, Ozuzu noted, “I don’t think there’s been a center back that’s able to keep up.”

He’s too big, too fast and too strong.

“I joke that his name is Asher Blessing Ozuzu,” Gustafson said. “He’s blessed in so many respects physically, and he’s a blessing to have on your team when you need a goal.”

Gustafson guessed Ozuzu’s new scoring record will not be touched for years to come. Ozuzu had a four-goal playoff game to go with five three-goal performances.

Ozuzu surprised himself with his scoring output this season, but Gustafson knew something special was on the horizon when the forward netted a pair of goals in the season opener against Hastings back in August.

“It was a different Asher than we saw in 2021. It was like, ‘OK, this has the potential makings of being something special,’ ” Gustafson said. “He’s one that when you don’t know him, you watch him, he passes the eye test. There’s something special about him.”

It just took a couple years to reveal itself. Gustafson called Ozuzu a “late bloomer,” one that figures to continue to blossom at the next level and beyond.

“I feel like that’s what drives me, that constantly wanting more,” Ozuzu said. “I don’t want to be an average player, I want to be at that top.”

Finalists

Xavier Anderson, senior forward, Woodbury: With 28 goals, he’s a lethal scorer, but Anderson tallied the game-winning assist in Woodbury’s state quarterfinal victory.

Cooper Bellinger Danielson, senior forward, St. Paul Academy: The senior’s 21 goals – many of which have been timely – have powered the Spartans into the Class A state semis.

Jacob Dinzeo, junior midfielder, Hill-Murray: With 25 goals and 11 assists, Dinzeo is the offensive firepower for the unbeaten Pioneers.

Liam Moreira, senior forward, Stillwater: Tallied 24 goals and 19 assists for the perennial-power Ponies.

Charles Wriedt, senior defender, Central: Skilled center back patrolled the field for Central’s frugal defense.

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