OKUGO PLAYS OUT OF POSITION, EXCELS AT CENTERBACK IN UNION'S OPEN CUP WIN
There was a moment, in the final minutes of the first half, when Union goalkeeper Chris Konopka was caught in the middle.
Unsure whether to retreat to defend the goal line, or whether to race toward the ball and retrieve it from a troublesome spot in the box, Konopka hesitated. And then Amobi Okugo, sliding six feet away from the endline, swung his right leg at the bouncing ball and booted it upfield.
The clearance looked all too easy. It almost looked as though Okugo has been playing centerback for years. He played it Tuesday night for the first time this season.
"I've been keeping sharp with fitness," said Okugo, who helped the Union post a cleansheet in a 3-0 win over the Rochester Rhinos, in a third-round U.S. Open Cup match. "I played centerback before, so it's nothing new. I played there with the (U-20s) and a little bit with the 23s. It's comfortable. You get to see the field a little more and I have a little more time on the ball."
The Union were in a bind. Captain and centerback Carlos Valdes missed the game with a red-card suspension carried over from last year's Open Cup, defender Porfirio Lopez and defensive midfielder Gabriel Gomez were out on national-team duty and defender Chris Albright can't seem to get healthy. Having traded Danny Califf earlier this month, those scenarios left the Union particularly thin on the backline.
That's where Okugo came into the equation. Sure, he played a little out of position -- beside Sheanon Williams at centerback -- but so did midfielders-turned-defenders Michael Farfan and Gabriel Farfan. Though Okugo is a little undersize for that spot on the pitch, he played well enough to help third-string goalkeeper Konopka post a cleansheet ... and help the Union win an Open Cup game for the first time in franchise history.
"We didn’t always defend as well as we wanted to at times, but we got a shutout and to have Amobi back there as a centerback, I thought he did a great job," said Union assistant coach John Hackworth.