Clubs will search the world for a reliable striker, hoping to find any player who can dependably put the ball in the back of the net. While not completely transferable to all levels, scoring goals is a valued and oftentimes rare skill. Eduvie Ikoba has emerged as a productive player in Hungary, enjoying a searing run of form during the fourth professional season of his career. The 25-year-old target man with Hungarian side Zalaegerszegi TE is attracting interest from across Europe.
Born in Bettendorf, Iowa, Ikoba competed with FC Blazers, Huntsville FC, and the Iowa Olympic Development Program Team, being named the Gatorade Alabama Player of the Year and a four-star recruit by Top Drawer Soccer, finding the back of the net 33 times as a senior. He matriculated to prestigious Dartmouth College, registering 17 goals in 62 matches while also briefly appearing with Black Rock FC in the USL Premier Development League (now League Two). He was awarded First Team All-Ivy League for his junior and senior seasons despite injuring his hamstring four times, including once immediately before the Major League Soccer Combine.
After four years at the collegiate level, FC Dallas selected the forward with the 63rd overall pick in the 2019 MLS SuperDraft. However, the club opted against signing him due to lingering injury issues, leaving Ikoba free to seek his fortunes abroad, joining Zalaegerszegi Torna Egylet Football Club of Hungary’s Nemzeti Bajnokság I on a one-year deal, taking advantage of a trial that was set up by a friend of his then-girlfriend. In his first professional season and having received specially-ordered size-15.5 cleats from a Belgian warehouse, he contributed a respectable eight goals and three assists across all competitions. The attacker chose to stay abroad in his new country during the pandemic, using the hiatus to learn Hungarian.
Following the expiration of his contract, Ikoba moved to AS Trenčín in the Slovak Super Liga, signing a three-year deal. In his first season, he contributed six goals and one assist in 29 appearances, thriving in the faster and more intense style. The next season was an almost identical performance, with six goals and one assist in 28 matches as the club narrowly missed out on Europa Conference League qualification. Perhaps an auger of things to come, his playing time dwindled in the second half of the schedule, going without an appearance for six consecutive fixtures.
“I feel more and more of a belief that I can play at a higher level and in bigger leagues, for sure,” Ikoba shared with American Soccer Now. “The good thing about my time in Slovakia was that although I wasn’t necessarily able to show improvement through statistics, I feel like all my mental strength grew significantly in this time. I had a lot of difficulties, whether it was injuries, with the coach, or just a lot of different problems - I had to go through them and I think each of them made me stronger.”
Last summer, Ikoba returned to Hungary and Zalaegerszegi at a late hour, being “patient” while competing for playing time with three other strikers. After starting the season on the bench, he caught fire, finding the back of the net ten times in 13 appearances, topping the league’s scoring chart at the winter break, and signing a contract extension through June of 2025. However, his production slowed as Zete became mired in a relegation fight. Despite his relative struggles of a mere three goals this calendar year, the club claimed the domestic Magyar Kupa (Hungarian Cup) and qualified for the next edition of the Europa Conference League.
However, Ikoba might not be around to take part in the competition. According to multiple reports, the target striker is receiving interest from Stuttgart, Hamburg, Bochum, Toulouse, and clubs in Major League Soccer and Serie A. Celtic is said to be engaged in “constant exchanges” with Zalaegerszegi, although a move isn’t certain to happen.
“I have a contract for two more years from this summer,” Ikoba shared with Yanks Abroad. “It’s good, of course, because the team is going to compete in Europa Conference qualifying which is a really big opportunity for any club. I’m not sure what my future will hold yet, whether I’ll stay or whether I’ll go, but I’m just going to assume that I’ll be here at Zala… until I hear something different or a contract comes where maybe I can take another step in my career but who knows. I would definitely consider that option, but it’s not beneficial for a professional athlete to think too far ahead, so now I’m just taking it one game at a time… In the summer, I’m sure I’ll talk with the club and my agent about everything else.”
At the international level, Ikoba is eligible for the USMNT by birth and Nigeria through his parents’ heritage. He is focused on his development and hoping for an invitation to either program. As of yet, there is no preference for a future decision due to his “pride [in his] ties to both countries.”
At 6’4”, Ikoba is a towering target striker who provides a physical presence in the final third, battling with opposing center backs and jostling for position. He is a constant threat in the box and always moving to receive crosses, scoring several goals from headers. Despite being a rumbling, downhill runner, his first step after receiving the ball is deceptively quick, which allows him to pull away to gain the necessary yard of space on a breakaway or to set up a shot. Teammates praise his abilities to draw multiple defenders, hold possession, and open up space.
His attention is toward mastering the basics of the position, taking a substance-over-style approach. “When I focused on the boring parts of being a striker, making the runs in the box at the right time, focusing on the technique with simple things like headers or [one-touch] finishes in the box, it really gave me more confidence because the more goals I was scoring, the freer I felt on the pitch,” Ikoba explained on the Footwork Podcast. “After that, I felt like the bigger goals or the better goals started to come more naturally just because there wasn’t so much pressure... When you have the simple goals, then it gives you more freedom, and then you’re able to do things that are outside of most people’s level of comfort... That’s why, now, I focus on a lot of the simple things: linking up, just being in the right place in the box because nine times out of ten the ball doesn’t come, but for the one time it comes, if you’re always consistent in making the runs, then you finish the season with a lot of goals.”
A striker can receive contracts and transfer interest for the rest of his career off of a single double-digit season. Ikoba contributed ten goals in a few months and may possess the intangibles to contribute at a higher level. While currently off the national team radar, his production has intrigued bigger clubs and should eventually lead to a move. A consistent finisher is difficult to ignore, and he should continue to earn opportunities in Europe to display his scoring touch over the next decade.