Union Rookies Make Major Impact vs TFC

Six months ago, their names were uttered at the podium by Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber.

This was January 14 at the Pennsylvania Convention Center where Philadelphia Union’s roster continued to evolve with the addition of three marquee first rounders in the MLS SuperDraft.

With the No. 1 overall pick the Union selected Danny Mwanga from Oregon State. At No. 6, it was midfielder Amobi Okugo. Then at No. 7, the Union took Jack McInerney.

Clearly, these were three important pieces for the club’s future.

Those three pieces were placed on the field together for the first time in league play this season during Philadelphia’s huge 2-1 victory over Toronto FC Saturday at PPL Park.

Mwanga and Okugo started the match while McInerney entered in the 54th minute. All three rookies played extremely well as the Union went on to win their fourth match this season.

“As for a younger approach, that’s where the future is,” said Union team manager Peter Nowak. “These guys are the future of the Union. Amobi Okugo played very well, considering it was only his second start.”

Mwanga, who celebrated his 19th birthday on Saturday, still ranks second on the club with five goals.

More importantly, he is gaining more and more experience every day.

“This was a perfect celebration for me,” Mwanga said. “That is more of a present than anything to me. It was a team win. After losing a tough one to San Jose last Saturday, this was a great way to come back. I feel like every time I step on the field, I’m learning and getting better individually. More important to me is how we get better as a team.”

Okugo controlled the midfield quite well in just his second career start. Since his name was called by Garber on draft day, he has worked each day to improve his skills.

That work ethic has obviously been noticed by the technical staff.

“I knew when I was picked by Philadelphia, an expansion club, I had to come in and work very, very hard and that the hard work would pay off,” said Okugo. “Yes, it is exciting to see it pay off and be on the field at the same time as Danny and Jack. I’ve known Danny and Jack for a long time. Danny is my roommate and I was in residency with Jack. We’re like one big family here – the young players and the veteran players. I feel like that family-type atmosphere has helped the entire club.”

McInerney scored his first career goal earlier this season on the road against the L.A. Galaxy.

He nearly had another one late in the second half against Toronto FC, but it had the same effect when it bounced off Maxim Usanov’s hand for a 95th minute penalty kick.

Goals or no goals, McInerney is thrilled to be on the field with his fellow rookies.

“It’s very cool, since we all were drafted on the same day,” said McInerney, who appeared in all four games for the U.S. in the 2009 FIFA U-17 World Cup, scoring two goals and helping the squad to the Round of 16. “We all know what the technical staff expects from us, so we all come in and work hard every practice and every game whenever our name is called. It feels very good to be able to contribute.”

They already have. And there is so much more to look forward to from these three ultra-talented rookies.

“I think the sky is the limit,” said Okugo. “We are all in this as a team. For the three of us, I think it’s been a fun ride.”

A fun ride that has just begun.

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