CHESTER, Pa. – After watching his teenage pal Juan Agudelo make history in South Africa earlier this week, Amobi Okugo didn’t feel any jealousy. Instead, he felt hope – hope that he, too, is on the right track for a successful career with the United States national team.
On Sunday, not long before Colorado captured their first MLS Cup, Okugo joined Agudelo and 16 others youngsters for a voyage to Georgia, where the United States U-20 national team will compete in the Torneo de las Americas, a three-team round-robin tournament held at Kennesaw State University.
The Americans will play Colombia on Nov. 26 and Mexico on Nov. 28, before departing the following day. Both matches are scheduled for 3:30 p.m.
A pair of wins would be welcome, but most important for Okugo, a promising young central midfielder with the Philadelphia Union, is continuing on a path toward the senior national team.
Seeing Agudelo, a U-20 staple, become the youngest player to score for the senior national team – in his debut, no less – is all the motivation he needs.
“I know Juan personally from U-20 and from residency. I was happy for him,” said Okugo, who played 437 minutes in his rookie season for the Union. “It serves as motivation for not only me but all of the young players in the U-20 cycle. Once you get an opportunity, you have to take advantage.”
It’s easy for young players to dream of playing at the highest level internationally, but turning that dream into a reality is, naturally, very difficult. But it helps that the path to glory has been neatly carved by plenty of past players.
“If you do well at U-20s, it’s a gateway to the [senior] national team," Okugo said.
Okugo’s last appearance for Thomas Rongen’s U-20 team was against Mexico at the Dallas Cup on March 28. The 19-year-old was also part of the squad that qualified for the 2009 FIFA U-20 World Cup last year.
Okugo hopes to stay with the team past the Torneo de las Americas and help it qualify for the 2011 U-20 World Cup in Colombia. But for now, the Union midfielder is ready to gain more experience on the international stage and reconnect with some old friends and new rivals.
Other MLS players on the squad are Agudelo of the New York Red Bulls, Bryan De La Fuente and Cesar Zamora of Chivas USA, Conor Shanosky of D.C. United, Tristan Bowen of the Los Angeles Galaxy and Fuad Ibrahim of Toronto FC.
“It’s been a while since I played with the U-20s because I was on the first team with the Union,” Okugo said. “I’m excited to be with the boys again.”