Orlando City midfielder Lawrence Olum attended Missouri Baptist, earned a degree and has played pro soccer for several years.
|Orlando City midfielder Lawrence Olum, shown at practice Thursday in Deltona, moved to the United States from Kenya in 2003 to attend Missouri Baptist. (Gary W. Green, Orlando Sentinel)|
When a coach offered him a scholarship to play in the United States, those plans changed.
“I was just done with high school, thinking about going to university [in Kenya],” Olum said. “As soon as my mom heard, ‘United States scholarship,’ it was game over. She said, ‘For free? OK, you’re going.’ ”
“You usually don’t get a scholarship in Kenya. The chances of somebody helping you pay for college is usually slim to none.”
Olum’s mother, Magdaline Ojuro, saw Olum play for the Orlando City Soccer Club in its regular-season finale last week. She is expected to be at the Florida Citrus Bowl on Saturday night to watch the Lions host the Charleston Battery in a first-round USL Pro playoff match.
Ojuro is visiting the United States for the first time since Olum moved here eight years ago to play for Missouri Baptist. Before he arrived in the U.S., his coach had been a teacher at his high school, someone who just liked the game.
Olum did not play organized soccer until high school, often participating in pick-up games in the streets.
“You don’t need much, just one ball,” Olum said. “You can use anything. I used my shoes a couple of times as goals.”
Olum’s mother hasn’t regretted sending her son to America.
“I know in Kenya, he wouldn’t have had the opportunity, because in Kenya, there aren’t the facilities like here,” said Ojuro, who will be in the U.S. until mid-September.
Olum was 18 when he arrived in the United States and had learned English in Kenya. He not only adjusted to a new country, but also to a different type of game. In America, soccer is more physical and played faster, Olum said.
The speed of the game echoed the speed of his new lifestyle. To Olum, everything â€” even the way people walked â€” was faster.
“Everything here is timed,” Olum said. “There is no time when you just stop. You already know you’ll be driving 30 minutes. In Kenya, you don’t time it like that. Here everything is scheduled.”
Olum graduated from Missouri Baptist in 2007 with a degree in marketing and advertising. He played in Portland and Minnesota in USL-1 before signing with the Austin Aztex in 2010.
Olum’s contract was transferred to Orlando City after the Austin franchise moved here.
“My first time I saw him, the thing that really impressed me about him was that he was really physically imposing in his area of the field,” Orlando City coach Adrian Heath said. “When I look at what he’s done for us since he’s been here, the attributes I first saw, he’s got better and better.”
Olum (6-2, 185), a midfielder, had one assist this season.
“I play behind him, and he keeps me motivated on the field,” teammate Kieron Bernard said. “I’m not really a talkative guy, and he helps me on the field during the game.”
After the season, Olum, 27, plans to spend time in Kenya. One day, he’d like to coach there.
“Usually I go back every year and take practice stuff back for them,” Olum said. “I can help a bunch of kids from my neighborhood.”