A phone buzzed Monday afternoon, and within a few hours, Amobi Okugo was clearing out his Orlando City SC locker and booking a flight to his new professional home in Kansas City. The midseason trade, he says, sparked a range of emotions for a player who opened the MLS season as a solidified starter but suddenly had played only sparingly over the previous two months.
At the forefront: Relief.
“Once I got the call from (Sporting KC) coach Peter (Vermes), it was a a bit of a whirlwind, but more than anything, it was a blessing,” Okugo said. “I was just really happy to go to this type of situation.”
A dizzying feel that afternoon lingered three days later. Okugo flew to Kansas City on Tuesday and was in the Sporting Park stands for the club’s U.S. Open Cup victory against the Houston Dynamo. A day later, he took part in his first practice.
And on Friday, he’s set to appear in uniform with Sporting KC for the first time. Vermes said Thursday that Okugo will be available for selection Friday, when the team faces Real Salt Lake at 10 p.m. at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah.
“It’s all happened pretty quickly,” Okugo said. “I’m just trying to get integrated as quickly as possible. This team’s already well-established, so I’m just trying to figure out what I can do best to help this team.”
Which piece of the puzzle Okugo will occupy isn’t yet clear. He broke into the league in 2010 as a center midfielder, but his first full-time role with Philadelphia came as a center back. He has continued to play both spots throughout his career.
Okugo, 24, started the first nine matches for Orlando City this season before playing only 69 minutes over the previous 11.
When Vermes made the trade Monday, which sent midfielder Servando Carrasco to Orlando City in return, he described Okugo as depth for a variety of positions. Before the acquisition, Sporting KC owned only 18-year-old Erik Palmer-Brown as a backup center back for starters Kevin Ellis and Matt Besler.
“It’s not going to be hard for him to fit in with our group,” Vermes said. “The benefit he has is that he’s been in our league. I don’t have to talk to him about that. He understands it really well, and he’s played enough games.
“It’s just what the role and the responsibility is when he’s playing certain positions on the field. That’s the piece he has to speed up on the learning curve. That’s going to be the biggest goal in the short term.”
He offers quality timing for reinforcements. Sporting KC is set to travel to play its third match in seven days. The team engaged in only a light training session Thursday — two days after its victory against Houston.
As usual, Vermes didn’t discuss his starting lineup — or whether Okugo would be in it — but he left open the possibility Okugo would make his debut in some fashion Friday.
“We’re running on fumes at the moment, so we’re going to have to be really smart with what our lineup is,” Vermes said. “I’m trying to get us the most amont of time to recover and see where the guys are (Friday). A lot of times, it’s the second day that you feel the worst with some players. So it’s hard to make a decision on that.”