Where does Amobi Okugo fit?

Union midfielder-defender talks SC Freiburg and his role in 2013

Okugo vs. NE Pink

Photo Credit: 
Greg Carroccio

One of the perks of being designated as a Generation adidas player is that along with all the free swag, a bag of fresh soccer balls awaited Amobi Okugo at his hometown address in Hayward, Calif. upon return from a tough season.

Okugo, 21, arguably the team’s greatest asset as a utility player has a head start to his 2013 preparation, which began shortly after the season wrapped –both he and midfielder Michael Farfan completed a two-week training stint in Germany with SC Freiburg. For Okugo, it was his second trip there, but was a completely different experience from what he was used to.  

“It’s really different, the way they train compared to the way we train here in the States,” said Okugo. “The one big thing is they are going double sessions in the middle of their season. Also on gamedays, they have almost a full-on practice session even before the game. It’s crazy but it’s an interesting concept.”

Perhaps the most intense concept of Okugo’s two-week trip was the finishing drills. Shooting from distance, finishing crosses, penalty shooting were all included in the daily repertoire – for hours at a time.  By comparison, much of the time within Union manager John Hackworth’s training sessions are centered around possession drills and knowing how to keep the ball.  Evident on the pitch this past season as the Union ranked among the league’s best in possession and time on the ball – but ranked at the bottom in both shots and shots on goal.

“The finishing drills they do [at SC Freiburg], you get tired,” said Okugo. “They spend a lot of time focusing on shooting, shooting with power and getting more of your shots on target. It’s important because you starting to realize spacing, how much you need depending on the distance of the shot, the angle, stuff like that. But it was a drill that was really helpful and that taught me a lot; I never thought you could get that tired from shooting.”

Okugo took some time off to rest – and used that time to practice yoga. While he had the mat (and swears he never wore the pants) he said the technique helped him stretch his body and gain greater flexibility.

Flexible is what Okugo had to be last season in order to earn consistent minutes on the pitch. With the injuries and the subsequent departure of former captain Danny Califf, Okugo filled in at center fullback alongside MLS All-Star Carlos Valdes. What Okugo displayed – at the wrong position – was arguably one of the best seasons by a defender in the league.

However with the recent signing of defender Jeff Parke from Seattle, Okugo will have to fight for a spot (s) on the pitch once again. Assuming Parke and Malian defender Bakary Soumare come into camp fit and hungry, Okugo will resume is role as a defensive midfielder, a position held firmly by both Brian Carroll and Michael Lahoud.

Read: Hackworth on recent signings

“It’s going to be interesting with all of the changes we made,” said Okugo. “Coach Hack told me to be prepared to fight for most positions. I liked center back, but it’s different. See, as a[defensive] mid, you have to track your runners where at center back you can pass them on or hold them off. I like mid more because I can spread the ball out, but on defense it really helped me read passes.”

He’s unsure of exactly where he’ll fit into the makeup, but for now Okugo will be doing his utmost to get in somewhere. He’s trained with his old club, San Juan FC in Sacramento and his out on a pitch with his bag of balls working to be an integral piece to get the Union over the hump and back to winning ways in 2013.

“It will be nice to get back into it, especially in front of our home fans,” Okugo said. “With the way the past season played out we have to come out and establish ourselves as a contender early. I don’t ever want to be a part of another season like last year.”

Contact Kerith Gabriel at kgabriel@philadelphiaunion.com