CHESTER, Pa. – Amobi Okugo has been the odd man out of the Philadelphia Union’s crowded midfield, and he predictably isn’t too thrilled about it.
After sitting on the bench for all 120 minutes of the Union’s 3-1 loss to the Seattle Sounders in last Tuesday’s US Open Cup final, Okugo didn’t get the starting nod again for Saturday’s scoreless draw with the Houston Dynamo. But Okugo, the only player on the roster who’s been with the Union continuously since the franchise’s first-ever game in 2010, did get into Saturday’s contest when center back Ethan White left with a hamstring injury early in the second half.
“It’s disappointing because I don’t feel like it’s based on my play,” Okugo said. “You just have to keep your head down, keep moving and keep playing.”
For Union interim manager Jim Curtin, the decision to hold out Okugo came down to not wanting to disrupt the central midfield triangle of Maurice Edu and Vincent Nogueira behind Cristian Maidana – all of whom are healthy and playing well.
And Curtin likes Okugo better in the midfield than at center back, where the 23-year-old had started just about every game under previous manager John Hackworth.
“I think Amobi’s a great player, but at the same time he’s not displacing Vincent, he’s not displacing Chaco [Maidana] and he’s not displacing Maurice Edu at this time in our group,” Curtin said. “So that was the decision. … I think highly of Amobi. I think he’s in great form. But for these two games, this was the lineup that we went with and I think this was our best midfield.”
There is a way for Okugo to get on the field with all three of those standout players, but that would mean sliding Edu from midfield to center back and benching White, a young defender who Curtin is very high on.
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And that’s what happened at the end of the scoreless draw with Houston, and that’s what may happen again this coming Saturday against D.C. United at RFK Stadium (3 pm ET; NBCSN) if White isn’t 100-percent healthy.
White said from the locker room this past Saturday that he wasn’t sure of the severity of his injury and that it was the first time in his life he’s ever felt something wrong with his hamstring. He also said he doesn’t want to miss what would be his first return to RFK since the offseason trade that sent him from D.C. to Philadelphia.
“It’s bad timing,” said White, who had started 10 of the previous 11 league games after not playing a single minute in Philly’s first 18 contests. “It’s also part of the game. Players get injured. I just have to do whatever I can in the next week to get back on the field.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at email@example.com.