Amobi Okugo is keenly aware of what 2011 SuperDraft hopefuls are going through right now. Uncertainty is the overwhelming emotion, but there’s also exhilaration and anticipation. 54 aspiring MLSers will find out their new home cities on Thursday when Commissioner Don Garber begins calling players to the podium on national television (12 pm, ESPN2/MLSsoccer.com).
A year ago, Okugo went through the same process – the MLS Combine in Florida, followed by an experience he’ll never forget: draft day.
“I had an accumulation of different feelings – nervousness, excitement, anxiety,” he told philadelphiaunion.com on Tuesday. “I just wanted everything to happen already. It was good because at the Combine you see all the coaches and try to showcase yourself. Then when the draft day comes you really have no idea where you are going, so it’s all like a blur.”
Sitting with his family amongst a sea of draft-picks-to-be, media members, MLS decisions-makers and fans at the Philadelphia Convention Center, Okugo did the only thing he could do when the 2010 draft began – he waited. Then he got the best text message of his life.
“My agent texted me a little before Philly had its sixth pick saying that I had been chosen,” Okugo recalled. “All the hard work that you put in and all the years you’ve been playing soccer – just to finally have your dreams come true, and to give your speech and go up there in front of your family and friends was an amazing experience.”
The once-in-a-lifetime moment was all the more memorable because the draft was in Philadelphia, where hundreds of Union fans embraced the club’s five selections who were present (Kyle Nakazawa was not in attendance).
“Oh it was crazy, being picked in Philly with the fans and having it be an expansion team,” Okugo said. “Just being with the Sons of Ben and then having a tour after the draft, it was just really exciting and they welcomed all five players who got drafted that day with open arms.”
When the dust settled that evening after a team-organized pub crawl, Okugo was in no mood to celebrate extravagantly. Instead, he reveled in the moment with his family, reflecting on his new career occupation: professional soccer player.
“It was a long day,” he said. “I was with my family and the amount of phone calls they were getting saying congratulations – we just chilled back at the hotel and enjoyed the night.”
As it currently stands, Philadelphia will select three players in Baltimore on Thursday with picks 5, 23 and 41 overall. Okugo will be able to share a year’s worth of wisdom with each when the Union begin preseason in less than two weeks, but in the meantime he has advice for every soon-to-be draftee.
“Just enjoy it and keep working hard,” he said. “No matter what happens, work hard. Whatever team picks you, they want you. Savor that and be grateful for the opportunity you have.”