After completing a successful first season with CF Montreal, Nigerian striker Sunusi Ibrahim is confident that he has garnered enough experience to set new goals for himself — higher goals.
The first is to become the highest goalscorer in the MLS and the second is to help his maturing team claim the MLS Cup title.
In November, Sunusi helped Montreal win the Canadian Championship trophy, although he spent all 90 minutes of the final on the substitutes bench as the club retained their title with a hard-fought 1-0 victory over MLS rivals Toronto FC.
Prior to that, however, the forward had been involved in the two games leading up to the final, particularly so in the semifinal, where he almost scored.
The in-form striker had a perfect chance to open the scoring only 11 minutes into the match. But presented with a one-touch opportunity at the top of the six-yard box, he could only manage to see his shot skied above the net.
Eventually, that game ended in a 0-0 score and Montréal eliminated Ontario’s Forge FC only after a wild penalty shootout to make it to the championship game.
Although Sunusi did not get on the field for that game, he was right there to claim his medal and celebrate with his teammates as the victory party began.
“I felt great and I thank God that made it possible for me,” he told ESPN.
“I am so excited to win something in my first professional season here. This is one of the things that I was dreaming of, to win something outside Nigeria so it was like one of my dreams coming true.”
And while others may have been sulking about not getting a chance to contribute in a marquee game like a cup final, Sunusi was all about the team.
“Of course, I would have loved to play,” he said.
“But whether I play or not, what is important is that the team wins. I am part of the team and the credit goes to each of us because we all contributed along the way and not just those who played in the final.
“But I am proud of the boys who represented us on the field and helped all of us to be champions.”
That trophy marked the first ever for the 19-year-old in only his first season with the Canadian club and now, having got that out of the way, he has set his sights a notch or two higher.
“This is the first step for me. We have a long way to go and now I know more trophies are coming, I will keep on working hard and I know if I do, more will follow,” Ibrahim said.
Wilfried Nancy was pleased to prove CF Montreal wrong during the Canadian Championship. Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
Montreal finished the MLS season just outside the playoff places with a 0-2 home loss to Orlando. Although first-year head coach Wilfried Nancy was embittered about the circumstances behind the loss, he was proud of his players.
Many did not envision CF would have any chances at a playoff push, with pundits even placing them dead last in preseason predictions.
“People at the start of the season said that Montréal would be last but again, nobody knew who I was as a coach, nobody knew the players that came in,” Nancy said.
“I don’t even blame them but they are predictions and that’s the way it is. We focused on ourselves.”
For Sunusi, that focus will help going forward.
“Winning this cup will spur us to win the MLS Cup. That was our objective at the beginning of the season. We made some mistakes this time because we are a young team,” he said.
“Next season, we will correct our mistakes and it will be much better for us because most of our players are new and this is our first experience in the MLS. Now that we have got the experience and matured a bit, we will be a much better team.”
Sunusi Ibrahim now has his eye on the MLS Cup title. David Kirouac/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
Beyond the team goal of becoming champions, Sunusi is also looking for some personal accomplishment.
After coming to Canada with the big reputation of having been topscorer in the Nigeria Professional Football League, Sunusi made something of a laboured start to life in the MLS, taking 14 games to score his first goal. He finished the season with four goals from 26 games.
That tally would look less than inspiring to others, but not to the young Nigerian, who harked back to his time at Nasarawa United.
“My first season in Nigeria, I did not score and then after that, I became topscorer. This one, I scored some goals so I know that next season will be much better,” he said.
“My goal next season will be to become the highest goalscorer in the league and to help my team to win the MLS Cup title.
“I have learned a lot of things and experienced a lot of things. Next season will be different because now I know a lot more than I did when I first came in.
“The league is very different from the Nigerian league. It is much better and I had to take my time to understand it and to adapt to it. But now I know what I need to do, and I know that if I work hard and stay focused, I can do it.”
Fine form abroad could translate to more appearances for Nigeria for Ibrahim Sunusi. Omar Vega/Getty Images
A good year for Sunusi also saw him make an appearance for Nigeria in a 4-0 friendly loss to Mexico. While he does not expect to make Nigeria’s AFCON squad to Cameroon, he is positive his time in the green and white is not far off.
“My time will come to play for the national team and I know that that time is not very far away,” Ibrahim said.
“The coach told me this is not over, That we have a long way to go and I have to keep on pushing for next season and I assured him that I will be a much better player next season.”