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As Soumare gets fit, Okugo could return to Union midfield

CHESTER, Pa. – With center back Bakary Soumaré now healthy and ready to build on his Philadelphia Union debut last weekend, it appears likely Amobi Okugo will return to the midfield.

But when exactly that will happen is still up in the air as the Union prepare for a Sunday match at D.C. United (5 pm ET, NBCSN, live chat on MLSsoccer.com).

“Right now, I’m happy Baky got back out there and got game time for us,” Union interim manager John Hackworth said during his weekly press conference. “But at the same time, if I had to go with a first-choice team, I think Carlos [Valdes] and Amobi are the two center backs that have played the best.”

Hackworth added that he’s not sure if Soumaré would have started against Chicago on Sunday had Valdés been available. But with Valdés away with the Colombian national team, Soumaré not only got the start alongside Okugo at center back but also played a full 90 minutes, making some impressive plays but also showing the rust that might be expected from someone recovering from knee surgery.

“The thought was that we wanted to get Baky a start,” Hackworth said of the former MLS All-Star, who signed with Philly in June. “But in getting Baky a start, it felt like Baky had to earn it. He’s got to be better than the guys who are playing in front of him currently. And both Carlos and Amobi have been very good, so it would have been a challenge for Baky to do that.

“But Baky is going to be one of our most important players and that will ultimately have to mean that we move Amobi probably back into the midfield in some regard,” he added.

Hackworth noted that he’s in constant communication with Okugo about possibly moving back to the midfield, where the 21-year-old has played most of his career. But before the switch is made, he wants to test out the new lineup in training.

And, at this point, Okugo has been practicing exclusively as a center back, where he’s played every minute since Hackworth took over as manager.

“One of the great things about Amobi is his personality and the fact that he’s versatile enough as a player [to make a position change],” Hackworth said. “As a coach, if you ask him to do something, especially if you tell him he can play, he’ll pretty much say, ‘Yeah, whatever you need.’”

True to form, Okugo said he’d certainly play wherever he’s asked and noted he’s been happy to help out at center back over the past 10 games and fill a void created when the Union traded away Danny Califf in May.

But a smile crept onto his face when he was asked about going back to the midfield.

“Yes, I’m comfortable there,” Okugo said. “That’s where I was drafted here as. If I’m grateful enough to get an opportunity in the midfield, that’s where I’ve played for the majority of my career.”

Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at djzeitlin@gmail.com.

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