The Utility Man

Midfielder-defender Okugo proves effective in any situation

Okugo vs. NE Pink

Photo Credit: 
Greg Carroccio

Amobi Okugo has seen just about everything during his stint with the Philadelphia Union.

And that’s in less than three full seasons.

It has been a whirlwind tour for Okugo, who came to the Union with the sixth overall pick in the 2010 MLS SuperDraft as a Generation adidas signee from UCLA.

Since January 2010, he has seen a coaching change, a litany of roster moves, a trip to the playoffs and numerous other highs and lows. But the whole experience has helped transform Okugo into a more complete player.

“It’s been a good experience overall, especially still as a young player,” said Okugo, who earned Pac-10 Freshman of the Year honors at UCLA. “When you first come into the league, it’s different than you expect. Then your coach gets [replaced], the team goes to the playoffs and then has a bad stretch. Going into this league, you expect to have some ups and downs.

Inside look: Amobi Okugo team bio and statistics

“I think the ups and downs have helped me deal with adversity and that makes you a better player. As a team, we’ve gone through a lot of adversity and I’m proud of the way we’ve pulled through it. Not everything has gone our way, but we have kept bouncing back and that says a lot about the character of this team.”

Okugo has become one of the more versatile players on the club with the ability to play multiple positions.

If he’s not displaying his steady effort in the midfield, he’s performing at a very high level on the backline.

“It hasn’t been that difficult because I have a lot of experience playing centerback in addition to the midfield,” Okugo said. “It’s that there are different aspects to playing different positions. Like when you’re playing centerback, you’re not taking as many risks in the back. You’re dealing with bigger forwards, world-class forwards, DPs. It can be tough to adjust.

When you get a chance to play and you have a coach who is behind you and puts you in an environment to succeed, it helps. My rookie year and last year to some extent, I didn’t get as much of a chance. It feels great that coach (John) Hackworth has confidence in me.”

Okugo also has confidence in the club as a whole.

“We’ve got a good, young club,” Okugo said. “We’ve got good, young players and veteran players who are very good leaders. It’s a matter of putting it all together to find the finished product.”

By next season, Okugo will be a fourth-year professional. He’ll also be even more seasoned and one of the veterans for the newer players to seek out for guidance. Amazing.

“I do feel like I’m so much more mature and not naïve anymore,” Okugo said. “As a rookie, you come into the league and you think everything is going to go well and the coach is going to have your back. Then the first two years, you don’t play that much. Nothing goes as you expect.

“Then it all comes together and you feel so much more mature. It’s a great feeling and I’m excited to carry this over to next season. I think we have a great future here."

Contact Union writer Andy Jasner at andy.jasner@yahoo.com