Olympic dream well within reach for Philly's Okugo
AMSTERDAM — This hasn’t been a run-of-the-mill offseason for Philadelphia Union midfielder Amobi Okugo. He just completed the Generation adidas tour of the Netherlands, enjoyed a training stint at Bundesliga club Freiburg and began chasing a childhood dream for real.
That dream – to take the field in the Olympic games – began 15 years ago with a little encouragement from his father, who now looks rather prophetic.
"When I was a kid, Nigeria won at the Olympics in Atlanta in '96," Okugo, a Sacramento, Calif., native with Nigerian parents, told MLSsoccer.com this week. "My dad said some day I would have the chance. Ever since, I've really wanted to play in the Olympics."
Last month, his offseason travels began at the US’ first Olympic camp in Germany, with US Soccer technical director Claudio Reyna drawing duty as substitute teacher. The Union man captained the US U-23s in a friendly draw at Bayer Leverkusen II, a pretty fair sign he's expected to make the London squad next summer.
Not content just to fulfill that dream, the 20-year-old is also intent on settling a personal score from summer duty with the US.
"I have a vendetta after not qualifying for the World Cup with the Under-20s, when we lost in Guatemala," Okugo said, recalling his team's overwhelming failure to qualify for the this past summer's U-20 World Cup. "Hopefully, I can make the Olympics, and we can do well."
The travels continue for Okugo, as he flew directly from here to Florida to meet up with the U-23s for their one-week training camp under Caleb Porter before returning his focus to rapidly approaching MLS matters.
Overall, the hover-bot midfielder rated his Dutch tour as a 10-day thrill ride. In addition to training with Ajax coaches and using state-of-the-art adidas performance-monitoring devices, Okugo was able to explore Amsterdam a bit to soak up the soccer atmosphere off the field.
"The stuff [the Ajax coaches] showed us – the miCoach analysis, the games we've been able to see – are all great experiences," he said. "It's crazy how into soccer they are here: the culture, even the players we played against. I've taken it all in stride to use to my advantage."
The Generation adidas team won once and dropped two games in the Netherlands, but Okugo wasn't making any excuses for a squad thrown together for the first time and playing tight-knit club sides. Besides, he says, they weren’t true strangers after facing each other in MLS play.
"It makes it a little easier," noted Okugo. "You scout them and figure out their tendencies. When we get on the field, we already have an idea of what each other wants to do with the ball and off the ball."
Prior to kicking off his Olympic drive, Okugo spent time training with Freiburg II. It's a no-nonsense club and the youngster left with both parties impressed by the other.
"It was a good experience," he said. "They gave me a lot of positive feedback. The way they go about their business, they're so disciplined. They focus in training from start to finish. They emphasize concentration."
Once the U-23 camp wraps on Dec. 23 and Okugo gets the chance to rest for the holidays, Okugo will head back to Philadelphia to prepare for the 2012 MLS season. Loaded with the European morsels he picked up this winter, the midfielder is confident that a Union squad full of young players can show great growth again this year.
"We hope so," smiled Okugo, rocking anxiously in his seat as if ready to get to it now. "Each season, we've made strides and this last year was a big improvement. I played in more games, so I was happy with it. This is a big season, we want to get past the first round [of the playoffs]. We're a young team, but we got a lot of experience, especially losing in the playoffs the way we did."