Any coach or manager not looking to get fired would
be as hands-off as possible with a player on a hot streak (or in nerdy
British soccer terms: a “rich vein of form”).
I’m here to argue the exact opposite.
Even a novice soccer evaluator could have told you
who the best player in blue was during last week’s Union win in Colorado.
Amobi Okugo not only scored a perfect header, but he was
all over the field on both ends. He helped neutralize the Rapids’
attack – including a potential goal-saving clearance at one point
– and provided some poise when the game got sloppy, which seemed to
be nearly all the time.
So, not-so-logically, I think he should change positions.
Okugo has been playing as a central defender since
last year, now playing alongside newcomer Jeff Parke. But he is a natural
midfielder, and has proven it by often sliding farther forward to help
play the ball out of the back and keep possession.
Captain Brian Carroll starts in the defensive midfielder
position, and there still could be a spot for him of Okugo was moved
forward. But Carroll has not played well the first two weeks, and Okugo
could have even more influence over the game as a midfielder, without
having to worry about holding a line next o Parke.
Enter Bakary Soumare – unless your name is John
Hackworth, who seems to have forgotten the high-priced central defender
he signed with his first post-Peter Nowak move last season.
I don’t pretend to know what happens in every training
session – maybe he’s just not jelling with Parke or learning
the system – but Soumare’s health is clearly not an issue anymore.
Not only was he dressed and on the bench last week, he was
called up this week to the Mali National Team for a World Cup qualifying
match against Rwanda on March 22 (he will only miss
next Saturday’s friendly against Pumas (Mexico) at PPL Park).
No matter what is going on between Soumare and Hackworth
behind the scenes, it’s time we all at least got a look at the 6-foot-4
defender in some live action. If he fails miserably, then so be it.
It’ll just be another notch on the list of bad signings/trades/draft
picks. But if Soumare can play beside Parke in the back (and a left
back option better than Ray Gaddis can be found), the Union could slowly
get back to the staunch defense that was the lone bright spot in 2012.
It would also allow Okugo to play farther upfield,
either alongside Carroll or by himself, where his abilities would be
better used. He’s poised on the ball, a pinpoint passer (something
Carroll has struggled with mightily in the first two games), and seems
to understand the right moment to join the attack. Not to mention that
his headed goal last week proved that he also might
be the team’s best aerial threat.
It’s time for the Union to recognize what they have
in Okugo – a player who has to be on the shortlist for a United States
call-up for this summer’s Gold Cup – and adjust the rest of the
lineup accordingly. If that means a veteran like Carroll has to adjust,
or even come off the bench when Hackworth wants to play a more attacking
formation, then so be it.
When 3 Points are More than 3 Points
As I mentioned, last week’s win was ugly. Both goals
were nice, but the Union never really had much possession or control
of the game.
But for a fanbase tired of moral victories, it was
nice to get a real one, especially on the road. The way the Union won
should also inspire confidence in the locker room.
Out of the 15 games last season in which the Union
held a lead, they lost that lead nine times. Four of those nine times,
they showed some resilience and came back to win – including a memorable
Fourth of July win in LA against the Galaxy.
But in four other games, the Union had a lead, only
to walk away with no points – just as they did in this year’s
opener against Kansas City (they also had one draw, on the road in DC).
Three points is three points – especially on
the road. And that kind of result should never be questioned.
But getting three points while proving you can shake
off the frustration of losing a lead is something to build on.
Follow Steve on Twitter @smoore1117.