What can Amobi Okugo do to build on his breakthrough MLS campaign from last season?

Defender Okugo eager to build on breakout 2013 MLS season

 

At just 22-years-old, Amobi Okugo is a Philadelphia Union veteran.

Think about it.

Okugo, and Jack McInerney, are the only players who have been with the team, continuously, from the very beginning.

It's a unique role to play, when you're young, but experienced, at the same time.

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Imagine draft picks coming out of college this year. They're the same age as you, but you've already got four years of MLS experience under your belt. You've played more than 80 games and held down a starting job since 2012.

"It's funny because this is one of those years where I'm (finally) older than the rookies," Okugo told reporters at preseason training. "It's just crazy to put it all in perspective, that you were one of the first guys here and you're still considered young. Myself, and Jack, you see Fred who's here, and you see (Sebastien Le Toux) - those are guys who (were here) when you started."

But the real talking point here is on-field performance.

Okugo started 32 games in 2013, setting personal records in games played, games started, total minutes, goals, assists, shots, and shots on goal.

He's improved cumulatively in each of those categories since his 2010 rookie year.

Additionally, the disciplinary statistics were good last year. Okugo conceded 36 fouls, giving opponents, by average, just 1.12 free kicks per game. He received six yellow cards, and was sent off once after picking up a second yellow in the road loss to New England.

Pairing with Jeff Parke for the bulk of the season, there were both positives and negatives.

Among the positives – 12 clean sheets, including two shutouts against rival New York. The defense buckled down late, conceding just seven goals in the final eight games of the season. 

Among the negatives – conceding five to Montreal and New England, and conceding four to Los Angeles.

It's all part of the process.

"I was talking to Fred and he was like, 'man you've changed', Okugo said. "Just to see the maturation process over four or five years is really, it's humbling and it's good, because players around the league are getting traded left and right."

"At the end of the year meeting, coach Hack said that they're going to rely on me more from a leadership aspect," he continued. "Jack, Sheanon, and myself, (our role is) just to help ease the transition from the younger guys to the older guys, just being sort of the middle man and closing the gap."

With uncertain expectations in 2013, the club missed the playoffs by three points.

In 2014, money has been spent and the midfield has a brand new look. The pieces are in place for a postseason return.

"I feel like playing in Philly, the stakes are always high, with the fans and the fact that it's a sports town," Okugo said. "But I feel like, with the news around the league, with certain players coming back, there are more eyes on us now, to see what we're going to do. We haven't been in the playoffs in two years and everyone has pressure on them, so you just have to raise the stakes."

How do you think Okugo will fare this season? Leave a comment below.

Contact Union writer Kevin Kinkead at k.kinkead@hotmail.com