Amobi Okugo was nowhere to be seen when Sporting Kansas City faced the Houston Dynamo in the U.S. Open Cup quarter-final Tuesday evening.
That’s because he, the newest edition to Sporting’s roster, is cup tied to Orlando City, and was busy signing autographs for fans in the Victory Suite. Okugo—while not a high-dollar, big-name signing—bolsters a group of players manager Peter Vermes has meticulously assembled to win championships.
"This team has so many key pieces, and everyone can slot in and give a good shift," Okugo said.
Okugo, a 24-year-old California native drafted by Philadelphia in 2010 before joining Orlando for its inaugural season, wants to be one of those key pieces.
"I’m just hoping to fill in and do my job. The most important thing is getting on the field and playing, he said.
Upon his move to Orlando City SC, Okugo was a consistent starter, typically playing full matches. But that changed after a less-than-spectacular performance against New England.
"I felt like I was on a short leash [after that game]. But, you know, Orlando’s got a great team, a great squad, and [the] coach felt the people that were playing were doing well enough for me to be traded," he said. "I’m happy that I’m in a situation [now] where the coach wants me, the coach knows me, and it’s going to be a good situation."
Okugo has proven to be versatile on the field, but this sudden change in scenery is forcing him to exhibit those traits off the field. What he now calls a blessing began as a surprise.
"I came into Orlando practice yesterday [Tuesday]. They let me know what was going down. You know, ‘You need to get your bags as soon as possible, try to get there as soon as possible,'" he said.
Changing cities, teams, and apartments in a matter of hours might sound stressful to most—and while Okugo didn’t deny feeling a bit overwhelmed as his family, visiting him in Orlando, hurried to help him pack, he looks at the trade as an opportunity to play alongside familiar faces
"Knowing guys like Jalil [Anibaba], Ike [Opara], Benny [Feilhaber]…it’s good to have some familiarity."
The familiarity isn’t only with some of Sporting’s regulars but also with the man who manages them from the sideline.
"On the Generation Adidas trip [in 2011], that’s how I really got to know Coach Peter [Vermes]. The Generation Adidas trip is supposed to be a casual trip…[but] from the very first day he’s like, ‘I’m not here to mess around. We’re here to win.’ He really helped me. He really gave me a vote of confidence during that trip."
But familiarity with players and manager aside, Okugo has many other reasons to be excited to join Sporting Kansas City, a "top notch" organization.
"Kansas City—everyone thinks it’s a small market team. But they’re doing things the right way, and when you do the right things the right way, both on and off the field, results happen."
The most valuable player at the 2010 Combine and former Generation Adidas standout hopes to get help Sporting get results on the field as soon as this Friday, when its Western Conference rivals play host at Rio Tinto Stadium.
"I know Sporting doesn’t like Real Salt Lake, so if I can help with that, it will be wonderful," he said.
With the frenzied transfer from Southeast to Midwest behind him, Okugo is ready to refocus his attention on what really matters: playing the game he loves, no matter his role within the team.
"[My best spot is] on the field," he said.