Photo: Earl Gardner
Amobi Okugo was the best men’s soccer player with connections to Philadelphia this year, and it wasn’t close. Players like Sheanon Williams, Jeff Parke, Jack McInerney, Conor Casey, and a few of the non-Union players with Philly ties played well this season, but none of them performed consistently on a level with Okugo.
Okugo, most Union fans would agree, is a defensive midfielder. In many ways, he is seen as something of a panacea for what ails the Union’s midfield. Replace Brian Carroll with Okugo, the thinking goes, and the rest clicks into place. Far from being a fantasy, such thinking might be spot on. And yet, dwelling on what might be is distracting fans from the very real impact Okugo is having as a central defender.
No longer just a fill-in, Okugo has been so good that Union head coach John Hackworth has said that 22-year-old will remain a center back for the foreseeable future. While the Union missed this year’s playoffs, Okugo and Parke formed one of the most formidable center back pairings in MLS this season. After getting burned by Thierry Henry for a game-winner in early April, Okugo has been a rock, constantly winning his battles against opposing attackers and bailing the Union out of jail. Add his passing skills and offensive aerial prowess into the mix, and Okugo is a triple threat.
Okugo might end up playing in midfield again. He might become the best defensive midfielder in MLS or head off to Europe. In the end, the past couple of seasons as a center back may end up being no more than a footnote in the story of Okugo’s career. But that should not detract from the performances Okugo has put in. Whether or not he becomes an excellent midfielder in the future, Okugo is an excellent central defender right now. He’s the kind of player to build a team around, and the Union are lucky to have him.
PSP’s Coach of the Year: Tim Oswald
PSP’s Amateur Player of the Year: Zack Steffen
PSP’s Women’s Player of the Year: Sinead Farrelly