CHESTER, Pa. – Two days after their CONCACAF Under-20 Championship quarterfinal loss, Amobi Okugo and Zac MacMath returned to the Philadelphia Union locker room to warm embraces and friendly pick-me-ups from all of their teammates.
Well, all of their teammates except for one.
Guatemalan Carlos Ruiz took a moment to rub it in that his native country eliminated the Americans from U-20 World Cup contention.
[inline_node:332643]“We went around the room and he’s sitting at his locker laughing at us,” said MacMath, laughing himself as he recounts the story. “Everyone else felt bad for us because they knew how hard it was.”
Playful ribbing aside, Ruiz and everyone else on the Union were glad to have Okugo and MacMath back on their side after a two-week absence.
Both Union players showed what they’re capable of for the U-20s, with MacMath starting all three games in net – group-stage shutout wins over Suriname and Panama, and the 2-1 knockout-stage loss to Guatemala – and Okugo showing creativity in the midfield, especially with his threaded through ball that set up the Americans’ only goal in their final game last Wednesday.
Still, the stunning loss to host Guatemala, which prevented the US from qualifying for this summer’s World Cup in Colombia, was a bitter pill to swallow for both youngsters.
“The experience was awesome and I got three really good games out of it,” said Union backup 'keeper MacMath, who roomed with Okugo during the trip. “But that last game was tough for us, emotionally and physically. I thought we all put it out there in the last 45 minutes, but we really didn’t get anything out of it. It’s tough knowing this summer we don’t have a World Cup to go to.”
The alternatives, at least, are not unappealing. Okugo, who played 84 minutes in his first game back last Saturday, will continue to be an important option for Philly in the midfield, and MacMath, will keep growing under the tutelage of veteran goalkeeper Faryd Mondragon.
Plus, Okugo and MacMath still hope to represent their country at the 2012 Olympics, and then, perhaps down the road, with the senior national team.
“I’d much rather go to the men’s national team World Cup than the U-20 World Cup,” Okugo said. “So hopefully my club play and my play with any other team can help me get a look with the national team. One of my big goals is to play in the Olympics and in the World Cup. This was a great stepping stone in my career as a soccer player.”
MacMath is on the same page as his teammate.
“That’s the dream – to play for the full senior national team,” added MacMath. “Sooner, hopefully we can get a shot with the Olympic team in 2012. But obviously in missing the [U-20] World Cup, we’re missing out on a lot of exposure to the world and to Bob [Bradley].”