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A Philadelphia Union blog hosted by Christopher A. Vito and Matthew De George

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Finding a place for Amobi Okugo in 2013

When it came time to pick a new captain in light of the departure of Carlos Valdes on loan, Brian Carroll seemed a pretty obvious choice to Union manager John Hackworth. But the skipper entering his first full season at the helm was just about as definite as to where he sees Amobi Okugo fitting into his squad.

How those two players fit may be one of the first conundrums in Hackworth’s newly minted 4-3-3 system.

“It’s still a little bit to be decided, but certainly having (Bakary Soumare) healthy and when Jeff (Parke) gets here from national team duty, I think you’ll see Amobi first and foremost in the midfield,” Hackworth said Monday at YSC Sports. “His versatility is fantastic for us. It gives a lot of questions to ask for the staff, which any coach wants to have. He’s one of our top returning players, so I would expect him to be in there somewhere no matter what, but it’s a good problem to have.”

The references to Parke and Soumare place the MLS veterans as the front-runners to occupy the central defense positions, two players who were in Seattle and Germany, respectively, at this time last year. That leaves the fourth-year Okugo, one of the diamonds in the rough of a season that was 2012, for the midfield. But the most obvious position for Okugo is in the center of the middle three in the formation, a position Carroll’s captaincy suggest the 31-year-old will regularly occupy.

So where does that leave Okugo, a player who objectively is among the Union’s best 11 and should be out there on a regular basis? It’s possible that he finds himself regularly on one of the outer prongs of that midfield trio. With Hackworth very high on the attacking contributions of Gabriel Farfan and Sheanon Williams at the fullback spots – plus speaking highly of the projections for young Trinidadian Damani Richards – it would be a job on paper that doesn’t require much width.

If Hackworth stays true to his word of not using Sebastien Le Toux out wide up front, a role that sapped his creativity in Vancouver and New York last season, Le Toux would slot into a midfield wing spot whenever Conor Casey would occupy the traditional center forward role. That would lessen the attacking burden on Okugo, and his defensive steadfastness would allow Le Toux to bomb forward with less need to track back. That formation (and this is very early going, so it’s just speculation) would look like this:




Wherever Okugo ends up, he’s the kind of intelligent and cerebral player who will be beneficial to the Union’s effort.

“It’s not too difficult because we’re playing soccer, the sport I love,” Okugo said of preparing for the possibility of two goals. “Whenever I’m on the field, it doesn’t matter where it’s at. I’m having fun, and I’m here for business.”

What form that takes is yet to be determined.

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