When Ben Ofeimu left his Michigan home at 15 to join the Philadelphia Union Academy, he did it with the hope that a day like today would one day come.
The Bethlehem Steel announced on Wednesday that the 18-year-old center back is the latest academy player to turn pro with the Union, forgoing his commitment to join Penn State this fall to sign a USL contract.
“We are very excited about signing Ben to the Steel,” Union Sporting Director Ernst Tanner said in a news release. “Ben has a big, physical presence on defense and is very technically skilled on the ball. His addition will strengthen the core of our backline and be a real asset to us this season. We feel that Ben has proven himself well at our Academy and look forward to continuing his professional development with the Steel.”
Ofeimu’s signing makes him the first academy player to turn pro with Steel since Sporting Director Ernst Tanner drew a lot of attention and praise for trading all of its SuperDraft picks to FC Cincinnati for $150,000 in general allocation money for 2019 and up to $50,000 more next year.
It’s also not surprising considering the impact the 6-foot-3 defender made at the USL level last season with nine starts and 12 games played, including an unforgettable debut in North Carolina last June where he scored an 83rd minute equalizer in a 2-1 win over North Carolina FC.
“Ben has emerged over the last 12 months as a very mature and hard-working prospect,” Steel FC head coach Brendan Burke said in a news release. “He has good feet for such a big guy and he communicates very well. He will be a key figure in our 2019 season and we are so happy to be welcoming another Union Academy graduate to the Steel on a permanent basis.”
Ofeimu’s journey from the Detroit suburbs and Vardar Academy to a pro contract has been a rocky one at times. Between adjusting to being on his own far away from his close-knit family at 15 and dealing with an injury that cut short his second season, there were doubts along the way that a pro contract would be within reach at 18.
Those are all behind him now as he begins the next step in a pathway Auston Trusty and Mark McKenzie have taken all the way to the U.S. Men’s National Team camp.