He’s been a starter, played multiple positions, been a team captain – and even relegated to the bench.
And in every role, he’s thrived.
As the last known Union original, Union midfielder-defender Amobi Okugo has been through it all and has come out on top with an affable grin to boot. For much of this season, Okugo, 23, has been a mainstay within the Union starting XI, playing either in central defense or busting up plays and kick starting counterattacks as a defensive midfielder. He’s been given the captain’s armband on a few occasions this season, due to his leadership abilities and on Thursday was recognized as one of Major League Soccer’s best young talents in its annual "24 under 24" series.
MLSSoccer.com ranked Okugo No. 13 on its list with one pundit calling the midfielder-defender "an interesting player that has more talent than he shows consistently."
But for the past few games, Okugo has found himself the odd man out given the dynamic play of Maurice Edu and Vincent Nogueira in the holding role and the emergence of Ethan White alongside Carlos Valdes in central defense.
It’s not easy being the odd man out, especially when his season for the most part has been flawless.
But Okugo has handled it with class and notably understands the reason behind it.
““I can’t worry about that stuff, my job is to make the job of the coach as hard as possible, make sure my name stays in the conversation,” Okugo told philadelphiaunion.com. “I’ve been on both sides of the spectrum; being a consistent starter and then being on the bench, but when you’re name’s called you have to be ready and that’s all I’m focused on.”
For the first time in a long time the Union has had the fortune of being heavy laden with talent at a variety of positions. When former Union manager John Hackworth left in June, what he left was a talented roster that just needed some tweaking. Under interim manager Jim Curtin the right formula for success has seemingly been found, especially with the addition of Valdes following the FIFA World Cup and now the Union can afford to make guys that would be customary starters a key element off the bench or even mix in at the perfect time.
Such is the case for Okugo.
And to him that sounds just fine.
“I feel like the team is helping each other out,” Okugo continued. “Our practices are very competitive and even this late in the game guys are fighting to get positions on the field and stay there. That’s good when you are in a playoff run because; you want the guys out there that are hungry and want to help the team win. I am one of those guys; I think the coaches see that, so when they call on me I’ll be ready.”
Curtin does know that and knows that Okugo has proven that not just this season, but as much as he could since being drafted by the Union in Philadelphia in 2010. Okugo’s four-plus seasons of grit, exceeding expectations in a center back role and his leadership are all tangibles that make him a go-to.
“I’m very high on Amobi, very high he’s a really good player,” said Curtin. “But when we look at our roster right now and what’s been working at those positions, we have to come to conclusions and this is our conclusion. But keeping him out of the XI isn’t a punishment, this is a business and we are responsible for putting our best foot forward with a good mix of players. Amobi is without question a part of that mix. I’ve seen the reports regarding the Amobi-Mo [Edu] conversation and I just laugh…we have depth and good, strong depth on our bench, so figuring out where and when to insert guys is a fantastic problem to have in my opinion.”
There is no mistaking what Okugo can do. His versatility at multiple positions makes him a precious Union commodity – regardless of role.
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Contact Union digital editor Kerith Gabriel at email@example.com