A little rusty, Okugo returns to Union's d-mid rotation
CHESTER, Pa. — During the second half of the Philadelphia Union’s scoreless draw with Sporting Kansas City on Wednesday, Union midfielder Amobi Okugo nearly tripped over the ball before passing it directly to a Sporting player.
Afterwards, Okugo, who was making his return to the field after missing a month of action with a high ankle sprain, could only laugh about it.
“Oh my goodness — there was a little rust,” Okugo said. “I think I had too much excitement. Once I settled down, I thought I did well. My teammates helped out, told me to settle down. Once that happened, I felt comfortable.”
Okugo, who injured his ankle May 21 vs. Chicago, said missing four games was “dreadful.” It was especially hard to sit out because the midfielder had become a fixture in the Philly starting lineup since returning from national team duty at the U-20 CONCACAF Championships in mid-April.
But now that he’s healthy again, Okugo hopes to pick up where he left off before the injury.
“I was excited to get back and help the team,” he said. “It was good I got in, got a little run. The bottom of my feet felt a little sore at first, but once I started playing, it felt really good.”
Okugo, who typically plays defensive midfielder, pushed forward when he came into the game in the 65th minute on Wednesday. He said later that because Sporting Kansas City were bunkering down and playing for the tie, he could take more risks and help the Union go for the winning goal.
Even though that goal never came, Okugo felt comfortable in more of an attacking role.
“I started out as a forward and kept getting pushed back and now I’m a d-mid,” Okugo said. “I’m just trying to help the team in any way possible. I’m looking to get better all around the field.”
While Okugo was sidelined, veteran Brian Carroll held down the fort as the team’s lone holding midfielder for most of Philly’s games. Fellow d-mid Stefani Miglioranzi, who also missed a chunk of time because of injury, started alongside Carroll in Vancouver on Saturday, but didn’t see any time Wednesday vs. Kansas City and could be the odd man out now that Okugo is back.
“You can’t worry about that too much,” Miglioranzi said recently.
"You want to be good support to the guys who are playing, and the way you do that is by bringing your ‘A’ game in training, to help them with their games. Otherwise, you take the spot back from them. That’s just the way it is. It’s the nature of the game.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on Twitter at @DaveZeitlin.