Raves: Amobi Okugo

Remember this guy?

Remember this little guy? Photo: Courtesy of Philadelphia Union.

Featured image: Daniel Gajdamowicz

Editor’s note: In Philadelphia, we’re all familiar with rants about sports. So once a year, PSP’s writers take several days to just flat out rave about players. They may not be the best players, but they’re players we like. Here’s another one in our Raves series.

Flashback to July, 2011.

Exhausted and sore, 20-year-old Amobi Okugo slumped at his locker next to fellow 2010 first round draft pick, Danny Mwanga.

Johnny Heitinga, Sylvain Distin, Jermaine Beckford, Ross Barkley, Jack Rodwell…

Those are some big boys. For all the talent and agility they possess, the Everton players were still far bigger and stronger than any that Okugo and Mwanga had faced in MLS. At that moment, the pair looked every bit two youngsters, only months removed from their teen years.

They needed to get big. That was the plan. To be able to compete with best, be it MLS, Europe or international play, they needed to get stronger.

Hit the gym. Hit it hard. And learn to be as tough and physical as the behemoths that rolled in from Liverpool to push them around.

Fast forward to Summer, 2012.

Photo by Earl Gardner

Keep crying, fools. You got owned! Photo: Earl Gardner

Out of options, John Hackworth moves Okugo to center back. At least he’s on the field, right?

And yeah. Turns out he’s good. Real good.

Still needs to work on his positioning and improve his game in the air.

But, come on. For being new at this, he’s better than anyone could have hoped.

Now all the way back here in October 2013.

Anyone want a piece of Okugo in an aerial challenge in either box?

No? Didn’t think so.

How about running past him, muscling him off the ball or otherwise establishing inside position on him?

No? Again. Absolutely not.

He’s not just good. He’s not just smart. He sees the field as well as any player on the Union, and there is still plenty more to expect from a player who has yet to come anywhere close to his ceiling. Having developed as a midfielder, Okugo’s confidence on the ball not only makes him an elite distributor out of the back line, it gives him poise when facing pressure.

Photo By Earl Gardner

He’s even good at whatever this is. Photo: Earl Gardner

“Panicked clearance” is something he simply does not do. His trademarked shoulder dip is proof of this. Think back to the many times Thierry Henry, Marco DiVaio, Claudio Bieler, Robbie Keane or any other striker has been bearing down on Okugo’s back with the Union central defender stuck in a less than advantageous position. Just when the attacker is most convinced that they have him trapped, Okugo leans in, feeling their weight before using it against them like a Judo master. Dropping his shoulder and rolling his body away from contact, Okugo always emerges on the other side wearing a face as cool as the other side of the pillow.

Honestly, how often is it that a player locks down a defensive spot (particularly center back) and establishes himself as a top tier MLS player, only for fans and members of the media to continuously speculate that he might be even better in another position? Not terribly often.

Oh. And he’s only 22. So there’s that.


Worth another look...

Worth another look…

Strength. Yup. Come get some, Sylvain.

Powerful aerial presence. Check. Only Conor Casey is close to being as potent as Okugo with his big, battering ram of a head.

Skill and composure on the ball. This might be Okugo’s best trait and is certainly the one that has so many people cooing over his potential return to the midfield.

Moves. Feel the pressure. Drop the shoulder. Wheel away to wide open space. Watch strikers frown. Go pout somewhere else, Thierry.

Maturity. Still 22, Okugo looks every bit a captain in the making. Were Hackworth to hand him the armband this weekend, no one would be the least bit surprised.

Upside? USA! USA! USA!


  1. I wonder how it’ll be to look back and realize Hackworth killed a once promising DM career.

  2. Nice post, Eli.

    Okugo is a special player. I’ll always remember the match vs Toronto at PPL in 2010 and watching Okugo boss midfield that day. I don’t think that he put a foot wrong that day and it opened my eyes how good of a player that this kid (he’s still a kid today) is.

    I would love to see him moved back into midfield as that’s still his best position because of his range and skill set. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a very good centerback, but I feel like his best attributes are not utilized to his maximum potential.

    Any idea on whether the Union have tried to re-sign him as he’s out of contract at end of this season? I wouldn’t be surprised to see him head off to Europe soon.

  3. It’s been fascinating to see Okugo mature this year, particularly next to Parke, who seems to have lost some of his early-season Zen Master cool. When they’re both on, the U are difficult to score on.

  4. Also, that step-over in MTL. His move to the midfield should be seamless.

  5. I have taken many people to matches who have never seen the Union play, but know the game. Consistently, they have all agreed he is the most talented player in the side. Nice article.

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