Union central defense with Amobi Okugo in the mix continues to be one of MLS' best

Okugo continues to lead by example...at a different position

 

It’s ironic how things work out sometimes.

Amobi Okugo joined the Philadelphia Union as a midfielder in his 2010 rookie season.

Now in his fourth season, he’s thriving with the Union as a centerback.

This wasn’t the original plan, but Okugo is among the starting 11 on a daily basis while playing some of the best football in his life.

“When I was a rookie, I was drafted as a center mid, and coach (John Hackworth) has seen me as a center mid,” Okugo said. “I’ve made the transition after going from U-14 to the Olympic team, I’ve been playing center mid. So I didn’t expect it, but it’s been going well, so I’m just trying to keep growing.

“It’s been great for me because I’m learning all the time and the coaches have put a lot of trust in me.”

Okugo has anchored a backline with Jeff Parke, Sheanon Williams and Ray Gaddis.

And it certainly doesn’t look like Okugo is lacking experience as a center mid.

“Amobi has done a great, great job, but we’re not surprised because we see him every day on the field,” Williams said. “He’s just an excellent soccer player and very smart. He knows what he’s doing and he works extremely hard. I think we’re building some great consistency and growth on the backline.”

The situation worked out this way for Okugo and he’s wise enough to seize the chance.

“The partnership is growing with all of us,” Okugo said. “Jeff and I are trying to do a good job in leading the back four. With each game, we’re just getting more and more comfortable.

“I feel comfortable just being on the field whether it’s centerback or center mid. Right now, I’ve been given the opportunity to play centerback, and I’m just trying to take full advantage of it. If I ever get the chance to play center mid, I’ll be happy to play there, too. I’m just trying to help the team wherever I am.

“I am in this spot right now and it’s a great opportunity for me. I feel very good back there and I’m learning as much as I can every single day.”

As a centerback, you’re expected to stymie some of the best players in the world. That was evident at New York when Thierry Henry continued to make runs and ultimately scored a goal.

“This is a great learning experience playing against the likes of Tim (Cahill), and with Henry coming off the bench,” Okugo said. “These are the games I want to play in to grow as a player. They will make me better down the road.”

Indeed.

There’s nothing like game experience, and another test awaits Saturday against the Columbus Crew.

“Every game, especially the ones on the road are great learning experiences,” Okugo said. “The crowds are loud and the teams are very, very good. I’m taking each one as it comes and building off it.”

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