Amobi Okugo and Maurice Edu: Contract talks and crowded midfields

Photo: Daniel Gajdamowicz

How many of you were surprised to see Amobi Okugo sitting on the bench for the U.S. Open Cup final? I was.

That was Tuesday night, when the Union original and shoe-in starter failed to make the starting 11, with the entire roster fully healthy for the first time since March.

So here’s the question that’s been floating around on social media ever since:

“Would you rather re-sign Amobi Okugo, or bring back Maurice Edu on a permanent deal?”

Consider the following:

  1. Amobi Okugo is on an expiring contract
  2. Maurice Edu is on an expiring loan deal
  3. If it wasn’t for Ethan White’s injury, Okugo would probably be starting on the bench again in D.C.

So here we are in September, weighing the value of each player, assuming that re-signing both is not a reality.

What’s up with Okugo’s contract?

We spoke with Amobi on Saturday. He couldn’t reveal much about the contract issue, but he was good enough to take some questions.

Here’s the transcript:

Kinkead: “Jim basically just said, look we’ve got everybody healthy now, it’s just a matter of trying to fit everybody into positions, and that we’ve got Maurice, and Vincent, and Chaco there. Is it disappointing not to be in the starting XI these past two games?”

Okugo: “Yeah, it’s disappointing because I don’t feel like it’s based on my play. It’s the coach’s decision. You’ve just got to keep your head down and keep moving and keep playing.”

Kinkead: “Obviously he sees you as a midfielder. Is that sort of the way you want things to be, whether you’re starting or not? Would you prefer to be starting at center back if you could be on the field.”

Okugo: “No, I just feel like wherever coach needs me, I’m willing to play. I’ve played center back in the past, and I’ve played center mid in the past. I feel like I’ve played both at a high level, so whenever coach calls my name, I’ll be ready.”

Kinkead: “Some people were saying some stuff, sort of wondering about your contract being up at the end of the year. Is there anything you can say regarding that, and regarding not playing?”

Okugo: “Yea. That’s my agent and my family’s decision. It’s not an issue right now in terms of the future, because we’re focused on the present and we’re focused on trying to make the playoffs. At the end of the season, we’ll have more of a clear understanding on [the contract].”

What’s going on the in the midfield?

We’ve talked before about the struggle to fit six players into five positions.

Six players: Amobi Okugo, Maurice Edu, Carlos Valdes, Vincent Nogueira, Cristian Maidana, Ethan White

Five positions: RCB, LCB, DM No. 6, CM No. 8, and AM No. 10.

I’ve said from the start that this is the best look a full strength Union team could provide:

4-3-3 good

You have Nogueira in his best position (No. 8), with Chaco Maidana free to roam and Okugo moving the ball quickly and efficiently in a deeper role. The CB pairing of Edu and Valdes can be the best in Major League Soccer, playing in front of Rais Mbolhi and flanked by Sheanon Williams and Ray Gaddis.

Jim Curtin has gone the other direction, moving Edu to his natural center midfield position, pairing Ethan White and Carlos Valdes, and dropping Okugo to the bench.

Ethan White has done a really good job this season, and it really makes you wonder what the hell John Hackworth was thinking back in April. One of the best things Jim Curtin has done is to keep things simple by putting players in their best positions. I don’t agree with the Ribeiro move, but Curtin has done a nice job of fixing the defense and tweaking the midfield.

But can you drop Okugo for White?

Whether or not Maurice Edu wants to play center back is a different story, but for the purposes of winning games and competing, he looks better in defense. Edu tends to push up a bit too far when he plays in the midfield, which leaves Nogueira with a lot of defensive responsibility on the counter and in transition. Nogueira has the skills to play as a deep-lying distributor, but he doesn’t have the same defensive shield as a typical regista in a 3-5-2 or a slower-paced league.

Think about this:

  1. Amobi started the season as a center back under John Hackworth,
  2. Jim Curtin took over, moved him into the midfield, and instead used Edu on the backline.
  3. Carlos Valdes returned, Ethan White got out of the dog house, and Edu was moved back into the middle at Okugo’s expense.

There’s a touch of irony to this whole thing.

Now that Okugo is finally in his natural position, he’s behind his good friend on the depth chart.

Here’s what Curtin had to say about the Okugo’s omission from the starting 11 after the Houston game:

“I think Amobi’s a great player, but at the same time he’s not displacing Vincent, he’s not displacing Chaco and he’s not displacing Maurice Edu at this time in our group. So that was the decision. Three guys that play midfield for us that you’ve all seen, he’s the odd man out unfortunately. Again, I think highly of Amobi, I think he’s in great form, but for these two games this was the lineup that we went with and I think this was our best midfield.”

Amobi Okugo - Earl

“Put me in the midfield boss.” Photo: Earl Gardner

Jim Curtin got the shape right. Many have been calling for Nogueira in a deeper role for a long time now. You could certainly pair Okugo and Edu in the midfield, but who sits on the bench? You can’t put Maidana, Wenger, or Le Toux on the pine. You’re then stuck with a boring 4-2-3-1 that takes away the best abilities of Chaco and Vinny Nogs.

How does this play out?

Amobi Okugo is 23 years old and making a guaranteed salary of $228,000. Edu is 28 years old and earning $600,000.

Okugo is the young Union original with seemingly infinite upside. Edu is the veteran international who is thriving in his MLS return.

Both players are excellent athletes who could probably start on any team in Major League Soccer.

That said, there are a few different things that could happen here.

  1. Okugo moves on, and Edu signs a permanent deal;
  2. Edu leaves and Okugo signs a new deal with Philadelphia;
  3. Both players take off;
  4. Both players remain with Philadelphia, Okugo starts in the midfield, and Edu starts at center back.

It’s hard to say whether or not Okugo’s contract issue is affecting his playing time. It could certainly be the opposite, with the demotion possibly motivating an exit from the club. But if the Union can pull off scenario No. 4 above, it would certainly give you one hell of a defensive spine in 2015.


  1. Not starting Okugo on Saturday was probably the worst decision Curtin has made as coach. The fact that Okugo didn’t play Tuesday, while maybe not ideal, was at least somewhat understandable for the reasons mentioned in the article. However, after Valdes, White, Edu, Nogueira, and Maidana all went 120 minutes on Tuesday, one of them should have sat on Saturday to get some rest (probably Edu since he played 120 in midfield Tuesday on top of 90 the previous Saturday). Maybe the best XI doesn’t include Okugo on some occasions, but not when he is rested and the rest of the team is tired.

    • Yeah, I really don’t understand Curtin’s decision here. The whole point of having depth at a position is the ability to take advantage of it when games are stacked. Okugo really should have seen the field Saturday (at the least). A 0-0 tie really speaks to not having fresh legs out there.

    • Second worst. Worse was not subbing in Okugo after Martins came on 4 days before. We needed more defense. Plus it was a snub. I see Sak’s handiwork here. Resigning Gaddis means they are talking with players who are not tied up next year. Maybe Amobi told them he expects a good offer to play in Europe next year. Maybe Mo said he wants to be our CDM for the next few years – at less than he could make in Europe. But losing them both would be inexcusable.

  2. I’d rank the scenarios in this order of probability: 3, 1, 2, 4.
    First off, I just don’t see Amobi signing a new deal. He has spoken openly of his desire to play abroad, and a young player with his obvious talent will have suitors in the offseason. He’s a great guy and a team player, but he can’t be too happy about all the time he was played out of position (very well, I should add), and now being benched after finally getting into the midfield.
    I think Edu is more likely to stick around. His Stoke career is almost certainly over. At this point in his career, he may not feel like having to proving himself in Europe all over again. His primary motivation for moving to MLS was to get back into the national team – he came to Union, got the playing time he needed, and got himself back into the picture, even though he ultimately didn’t make the WC team. Though I don’t know the man personally, going back to Europe and sitting on the bench does not seem like an option he’d be interested in. He seems to like it here, fits in with the fans and the locker room, and gets to wear that captain’s armband quite a bit.
    The only thing that gets in the way here is $$$…I don’t know what Sak and the owners have in mind, and Mo is a pretty expensive player. For that reason I think it is slightly more likely that both players leave, but if the money is right, I think Edu stays.

    • I agree that it’s more likely that Edu sticks around. My guess is that they find a way to keep Edu, first. They can offer him playing time and can give him a long-term deal.
      As far as Okugo, I believe he will attempt to head out to Europe. The Union should still try to re-sign him in order to retain his rights via a “qualifying offer” (whatever that means). If he does go to Europe, the Union could rely on Edu for the next few years, and when Okugo decides to return to MLS, the Union will have the first chance at signing him based on retaining his rights.

  3. I think you can absolutely drop Wenger for Okugo in the starting lineup. And I actually say this as a big fan of Wenger. One of the issues that really showed itself in the US Cup game is that we need a better offensive bench option then Cruz, Brown, Fred, Ribeiro, etc and I think Wenger can fill that role. We all know Casey can rarely go a full 90 anymore so we know that every game we will have to sub at least one offensive player.

    As far as the starting lineup then, you can either start Cruz for Wenger in a like-for-like 4-2-3-1 or (what I really like) you can bring on Okugo and play a 4-4-2 narrow diamond with Okugo holding, Edu on the left, Nogueira on the right, and Maidana as the attacking spearhead. This also allows Le Toux to stay up top with Casey thus allowing our two best scorers to focus on putting the ball in the back of the net.

    • This could be an amazing lineup, but it depends on how well the pieces mesh together. There are 2 potential problems:
      1) Lack of width. Nobody is playing winger in this formation. This could potentially be mitigated by the tendency of Maidana, Nogueira, and Le Toux to find space wherever it’s available, and the tendency of the wingers (especially Sheanon) to get up into the attack, but they’d have to continue to work to mesh together.
      2) Lack of guys in the box. Sure Edu likes to get up into the attack, but we’re talking to the opposing 25-yard mark, not the box. Chaco doesn’t get into the box too much — he prefers to make plays from outside. And Nogueira rarely gets in the box — he likes to stay outside as more of a playmaker and long-distance shooter. So I could see us in a whole lot of situations where Le Toux gets the ball up the wing, puts in a cross… and there’s only one guy there, who is easily marked.

      I’m not saying it couldn’t work — I’d kinda love to see it, actually — but I’m not certain it would work.

      • Agreed. But really every formation has strengths and weaknesses. The only way to know if the players could pull it off is to try it out.

        I just see that as the only real option to get all the best players on the roster as close to there natural positions as possible all in the same lineup. The “odd man out” there would be Wenger, but with Casey likely needing a sub around 60mins, it is not like he won’t see the field pretty much every game.

  4. By sitting Okugo and not winning any of these last 3 games Curtain has demonstrated his similarity to Hackworth. If he’s kept on as coach he will similarly be fired half way through the 2015 season. I realize Curtain didn’t choose the players, Hackworth did. But that doesn’t change the fact he’s sitting an original and one of the best players and simultaneously losing games.

  5. The circuitous route JC has taken to this point is what I find so interesting and as said above- makes one wonder if there are other factors (FO) involved. I was so happy JC saw through the veil of mess Hackworth was creating and moving Amobi back to midfield- which incidentally came with a definite bump in form for the team. Now all of a sudden, in the biggest game in franchise history a switch is made and then “oh sorry Okugo is odd man out in the midfield” but lets start Ethan White at back so Okugo inserts finger in his ass on the bench. Smells like a fish in a newspaper to me. Luca Brasi style.
    As far as I am concerned I am happy and hoping Okugo moves on and explores his ceiling abroad. That is my take and for all you who argue about his play- sorry. I feel that strongly about the player and am quite certain he will fit the mold of the european DM super super well. He plays chess with humans on the field and that is what it takes in europe.
    In the meantime, if all this means Maurice Edu rides out his career in Philly, truth be told- I guess I can be okay with that as well. Good guy by all accounts. Good player.
    This much I will say, as much as I don’t want to say it, I think this switch is going to negatively impact this team for remainder of the year and if that happens- too bad- cause we were really solid with Edu at CB and Okugo at DM- like really really solid defensively- like f@*k you- you can’t score and what are you going to do about it solid– Like sneaky CUP run solid. Not anymore though. Not anymore. May not even qualify for playoffs now.

    • There’s nothing to lose by telling Amobi that the Union want to sign him for at least 2 years with a healthy raise under new CBA to be the face of the franchise. Make it tough for him to refuse (he can still go across the pond as a star at 25 to EPL). Apparently that wasn’t done & it’s too late now – after you held him out Tuesday. Either there’s a strategy or Sak is conducting roster management with a clarity comparable to the coach search. I almost wish we miss again this year and Jay reconsiders the return on his investment and the likelihood of improving it under this CEO given the track record.

      • “either there’s a strategy” – 1% chance (anything’s possible) “or Sak is conducting roster management with a clarity comparable to the coach search.” (and everything else) – 99%. hope we don’t miss playoffs and hope Sugarman reviews CEO performance and opts for a change.

  6. We need to win games this year, so get the best 11 on the field. Edu is calm and fluid in the back, offers good size and speed, and distributes well. As solid as White has been, Edu is an upgrade on the backline. He should be a CB for the remainder of the year, with Okugo at CDM. Then address the logjam in the offseason – allow the contract negotiations to begin and make sure one of them gets locked in for 2015 and beyond.

  7. Option 5 – decision by blind draw or weighted lottery.

    Seriously, in addition to preferring Okugo to Edu in the CDM role I think resigning him even at higher salary leaves the club more money to address the needs at striker. Signing Edu would require a transfer fee plus his DP level salary. Depth up front is a must to compete at the next level in MLS, and Casey isn’t getting any younger either.

    • We’ll need more than depth. I love Casey, but at some point he’s just going to give out. And it could be next year. And we can’t be left high and dry when that happens.

      • Definitely agree with you on Casey. I’ve been happy/surprised/ impressed it did not happen this year after Hackworth ground him down at the end of last season.

  8. Seems like a good problem to have, barring losing both players and nothing better with which to replace them. I’m happy keeping either one of them. Both is apparently a redundancy as far as Curtin is concerned.

    I agree that a priority has to be to find a better quality striker, no offense to Casey, who has done a good job.

  9. This is something that has been said many times before but I would just like to throw it back out there. Edu is better as a center back than a center mid. It kind of annoys me that he is played there just because that is what he wants even though I think he is better in the back and it solves the problem of how to get your best players on the field.

  10. Off topic, but is there any news coming out of Harrisburg? They are heading into a championship game this weekend and it sounds like they had a barn burner against Richmond Saturday night.

  11. “Both players are excellent athletes who could probably start on any team in the Major League Soccer.” I really, REALLY wish writers would STOP referring to MLS as “the MLS”!!!!!!!!!! As soon as i see it, i stop reading. I don’t care who’s written the article. It is NOT “The Major League Soccer”!!!!!!!!!

  12. Speaking of HCI, I’m more excited to watch them Saturday than the Union. They have more dangerous offensive players! They have a left back! They have a coach! They have one good goalie, not 3! And, they might win a championship!

  13. I think Edu is good at center back, but I don’t think he fits in really well with the style that Curtin wants. Noticeable in the game on Saturday, Curtin had White and Valdes playing the smart, disciplined art of the high line. When White got injured and Edu moved back to play CB, he didn’t really seem to cohere with that style of play. Edu isn’t bad at center back, he just plays the position differently from how Curtin seems to prefer.
    For now, I prefer the midfield lineup that Curtin put out there (when the team is fully rested, not on 4 days rest like Saturday). That being said, I think Okugo should be playing center back instead of White, even when White is healthy. Contrary to popular opinion, I feel that Okugo’s future is at center back. If Okugo does find his way overseas in the offseason, it won’t be purely for his midfield play. It’ll be either because he is versatile and can play CB when needed, or because the hypothetical European team would want to convert him to CB permanently.

  14. OneManWolfpack says:

    I love the Union. I have been on board since day one, and even before. But something tells me they are not going to make the right decision with this Okugo / Edu issue. Maybe it’s the partially depressed Philly fan in me, but I’m worried about the out come.
    With that said, let’s get into the playoffs and make a run. Get both guys on the field for the rest of the season (Edu at CB & Okugo at DM), and worry about who is here after we raise the Cup. Hell, a deep run might convince both guys to stay.
    Personally, I think with the past week of Okugo not playing, and him being only 23, he’s gone. If he stays in MLS now, he’s here for a while. If I was him, I’d bolt for Europe and see if I could play with the best. With Edu being older, he knows this is the best place for him to make money and be happy. He’s not going back to Stoke. He’s not playing for the USMNT in 2018. Edu has more of an incentive to stay, where as Okugo has more of an incentive to leave.
    BUT, who knows… the right manager could fix this problem. We shall see…

  15. Kevin,
    I’m glad you wrote this article because enough folks have been commenting about this topic in game recaps etc. to warrant it. Hopefully the press folks will start asking Curtin and Front Office about it based upon the many points here.

    I like the “best look Union” team you put in your graphic above. When I turn on my TV and I see those guys in that formation before halftime I am excited to watch. Other have said it. That’s basically an “FU defense”.. and all kinds of scoring potential too.

    A couple of additional points I’d like to make. You didn’t mention Brian Carrol’s name once. And that is appropriate. Why was he even in a starting lineup this season to begin with? And captain? What a waste of points that was! Hopefully it’s a lesson learned.

    Also, the essence of this same article could be written about the goal keeper position. There is expensive, newly acquired redundancy at our strongest positions. What does that tell you? The Front Office folks need to be held accountable. Never in a million years should Danny Cruz, Fred, or that new big striker guy (or even White or Gaddis)… never should they be on the field with Okugo on the bench. Never should that low level of skill be on the field with the kind of GK talent we have on the bench. Union Front Office is not up to par. Many more fans will tune when there’s improvement.

  16. James Lockerbie says:

    I understand Why Amobi Okugo would be interested in going overseas, the question I have is there any interest in Amobi Okugo?

    I mean no disrespect but, is there a team interested in him, I haven’t seen any rumors to that effect. I really hope the team and Okugo can find a way to keep him here. I think he has a lot to contribute to this team in the future.

    • There would be no transfer fee if his contract is up, right? I think it’s a given that there would be interest from decent clubs in top European leagues

    • International scouting is so thorough these days, it’s likely that multiple teams abroad would be interested in Okugo on some level. Whether any of those teams are worth the trip to play for remains to be seen.

  17. Best part of this article makes a pretty clear choice in my mind:
    Okugo – 23 @ $228k vs. Edu – 28 @ $600k
    For me, it’s a no brainer. As much as I love Edu, looking to the future, we need cash to sign a legitimate striker. Okugo could easily match (if not exceed) Edu’s abilities within a year or two. Gotta think long-term if you want to be successful.

    • For me its not a question of Edu or Okugo, I want both. There is no sane organization that will not keep those two players and collectively they are cheap. Why does the Union with such a great fan base choose instead to be a cheap mother.

      • it would be great to keep both and add a quality striker, but I rate the need for a quality striker much higher than to keep both.

    • And actually, the Edu math is much higher on his Stoke deal. The Union have him on the 50% off sale. He’s Stoke’s until next June. They could try and sign him on the 6mos freebie deal in Jan and bring him back in June. And either wait it out for the first 3 months of the season or see if Stoke will extend the loan AND hope they can sign Edu on a deep discount. Any of you up for a 50% reduction in pay?

  18. Hate to say it, but am I the only one that thinks benching Valdes last week would have been the best idea? Until he finds his form, Mo and white as CBs would gave made the most sense. They are playing him into shape, but last Tuesday it would have been better to have him be the odd nan out.

  19. I’ve been a bit lost with the love for Edu at midfield.
    I have always seen an athletic player w/ poor positional awareness that relies on his athleticism to make up for it (Mike Vick effect- Sheanon has this problem too).
    And this season, Edu looks very cavalier in midfield, like he thinks he should dominate b/c he played in Glasgow.
    He’s disciplined in the back. But in MF, he rarely shows for the ball and more often than not is defending from the wrong side of the ball.
    Amobi is better all-around.
    Maybe I’m not seeing it right, but I was a pretty good CDM and CB, so I feel I have a good grip on it.
    Any chance PSP or anyone can get a heat map of Edu vs Okugo in MF?

    • That’s exactly how Edu plays (or played) for the USMNT. Cavalier at mid-field and solid at CB. It’s not a revelation that in the dead center of the field he holds the ball slightly too long, rarely makes the killer ball or even a clever ball) and sometimes makes a bone head giveaway ALA Michael Bradley VS Portugal in final seconds. I’ve been saying this since the day we acquired Edu. He is a damn good CB, but the only way Edu fits in a MLS mid-field is on a team without Okugo, Beckerman or even Brian Carrol… What a waste for him and for us the fans!

      Same goes for M’Bohli acquisition. I guess we’ll never see Blake play in a Union shirt now. Wasteful…

  20. UnitedPenn13 says:

    I just saw a report on the MLSSoccer site that Jim Curtin has been named full time head coach of the Union. It’s not on the Union web site yet.

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