With the average age of the Orlando City team being 24.4 years, it may come as a surprise to most that 23-year-old Amobi Okugo has been identified by Head Coach Adrian Heath as a leader. However, to Okugo himself, that comes as no shock.
"Yeah, I feel like I can do that," says Okugu. "I feel like a young veteran. Coming in, Coach Heath's kind of counting on me for that. It is kind of like my position, you know. As a center mid, you are supposed to be the transition from defense to offense. With my experience in the league and my age, I can kind of be the transition between the older guys and the younger guys and I'm hoping to do that, as we need to start off on the right foot."
These wise words do not sound like they come from a player who was only drafted into the league five years ago. Okugo was selected by the Philadelphia Union out of UCLA as the sixth overall pick in the 2010 MLS SuperDraft. He was a Generation Adidas signee with MLS and his swift progression highlights that the GA program works -- and why Orlando believes in it. Since being drafted by Philadelphia, he has appeared in over 110 MLS games, scored five goals, added six assists, and was second in minutes played for the Union during the 2014 season.
These statistics and his high level of performance and commitment during games had teams from overseas expressing an interest in him. However, Orlando made overtures towards him as well and eventually, in a pre-expansion draft trade with Philadelphia, the Lions obtained Okugu's MLS rights in exchange for allocation money and their second-round 2016 SuperDraft pick. In regards to remaining in MLS and not going overseas, Okugo let us know that it was the Orlando front office that made it happen:
"It was Coach Heath and (General Manager) Paul McDonough... they had a great pitch," he said. "[With] Coach Heath's experience in Europe, you know, he sat me down, clarified through my agent, [and] he knows that Europe is still a big goal of mine, but he felt that I wasn't utilized as best as I could have been at Philly.
"He said, ‘You know if you come here, then you are going to have a great situation and a great organization. You are going to be in a place where you can grow as a player,' and down the line, if the opportunities come around, he is going to do everything in his power to make that happen. So when he came to me and my agent with that whole spiel and everything, I couldn't really say no to this opportunity."
It's clear that Okugu and the Lions see this as a great opportunity for both to grow and prosper together. It's a hard sell to convince an MLS veteran to repeat the risks and growing pains of an expansion team's first season, especially given the possible overseas opportunities during the prime of his career. However, Okugu's willingness to join Orlando City's squad demonstrates the belief and passion the midfielder has for Heath and the Orlando front office.