There hasn’t been much off in the offseason for Amobi Okugo, who has explored plenty of new places during three separate soccer excursions. Perhaps most interesting to fans, though, is that the Philadelphia Union youngster explored a new playing position, too.
Over the course of three games in Madrid while on tour with the Generation adidas squad – a trip sandwiched between a pair of US U-20 camps – Okugo played some center back, which he said was a new but enjoyable experience.
“I’m a defensive mid by trade but center back is not bad,” Okugo told MLSsoccer.com, during a rare moment of respite in his hometown of Sacramento, Calif. “It’s starting to grow on me.”
Using Okugo in the back could certainly be an intriguing option for the Union.
Although the center back pairing of Danny Califf and Michael Orozco Fiscal did gel nicely toward the end of the 2010 season, the Union still had the second-highest goals-against average in the league. And with new acquisition Brian Carroll joining veterans Stefani Miglioranzi and Eduardo Coudet in Union colors, the team also has an excess of holding midfielders.
“I’d play there if they need me to,” Okugo said of the defense.
The 19-year-old out of UCLA certainly did a good job there as he and the other MLS rising stars picked up wins against the reserve sides from Real Madrid, Rayo Valleacano and Atlético Madrid. Union teammate Jack McInerney joined Okugo in Spain, but Danny Mwanga did not because his visa didn’t arrive in time.
“We were all joking around after the third game that we should create a new Generation adidas expansion side,” Okugo said. “It’s good. It means MLS and Generation adidas are taking strides. We’re living up to hype, but we’ve got to play up to the potential they see in us. Hopefully we can keep it up.”
Okugo flew to Spain directly from Atlanta, where he played with the US U-20 national team in the Torneo de las Americas tournament. After spending a few days with his family in Sacramento following the Generation adidas trip, he rejoined the U-20 squad Sunday in Sunrise, Fla., for a training camp that includes friendlies vs. Canada this Thursday and Saturday.
The long flights and no-stop soccer has been grueling, but learning a new position, seeing new places and reconnecting with old teammates made it all worth it. Perhaps the best part is the chance to continue to grow and mature alongside McInerney, his Union teammate. Just as in Spain, the teenagers are playing together this week in Florida.
“Me and Jack have become close friends,” Okugo said. “It’s been good to see him. … Our main goal is to become a more integral part of the [Union] and to play more games than we did last season. Hopefully if we keep working hard, we’ll be a big part of the team in 2011.”
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