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Locally Grown: Amobi Okugo on Sacramento, his soccer idols, and his path to the pros

In the first part of an ongoing series looking at people with Sacramento roots who have found soccer success, Amobi Okugo talks to ICS about growing up playing soccer locally, his soccer idols, and his path to becoming a professional.

Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

The Sacramento area is loaded with both soccer talent and fandom. In addition to a fantastic USL team and great fans, our region has also produced quite a few people who have found success in soccer, whether on the field or off. We at Indomitable City Soccer want to do what we can to bring the stories of these individuals to you, and what better way to start than with an interview with five-year MLS veteran and Sacramento local, Amobi Okugo.

Indomitable City Soccer: How was it growing up playing soccer in Sacramento and the Sacramento area?

Amobi Okugo: It was good. My age group in particular was very competitive. I started out originally, in terms of competitive soccer, with Elk Grove, then my team moved to El Dorado and then from El Dorado to San Juan. The competition was good, whether it was playing Davis United or Elk Grove or River City, all these clubs that are still around today. The competition was great and it really helped me to prepare for my life as a professional.

ICS: It seems like there have been quite a few quality players coming out of the Sacramento area around your age group. Adam Jahn certainly comes to mind.

Okugo: Yeah, me and Adam have known each other since we were like 10 or 11 years old. When we finally joined teams it was like a long time coming because we were rivals for the longest time.

ICS: I see you went to both Jesuit and Rio Americano for high school. Did you play for both schools?

Okugo: My first year at Jesuit I played with the JV team and after my sophomore year I was invited to residency [at the IMG Soccer Academy] so I didn't play high school soccer. I didn't come back until my second semester junior year and the soccer season was over by the time I came back. And then, because I was traveling so much with the youth national teams, it wasn't ideal for me to go to Jesuit for my senior year with all the obligations with Kairos and retreats and stuff, I was going to miss all those vital things.

I went to Rio my final year and they were really helpful when it came to finishing school and being able to miss school and pursue my career as a soccer player while getting my high school diploma.

ICS: What was the residency experience like, trying to balance high school with the demands of residency?

Okugo: Residency was a great opportunity for me and I wouldn't change it for the world. It was cool, it was really where I realized that I was going to try to pursue being a professional athlete. In that environment  at the IMG Academy, where you're forced to become a young professional in terms of training, working out, watching your diet at a young age, that really forced me to mature fast all while handling school and being away from home. I wouldn't change it for the world. I really think it helped elevate my game both on the field and off the field.

ICS: Did you have any favorite teams or players that you looked up to growing up?

Okugo: Growing up and being Nigerian-American, the first soccer team I watched and had as idols growing up was the Nigerian team, the 1996 Olympic team. I was actually kind of forced to like them because that's where I'm from, my dad, my mom, my uncles, they all were supporting them when they won the gold medal. Guys like Kanu, Sunday Oliseh, Finidi George, Okocha, all those guys are guys I try to emulate.

In terms of club teams, I really like Chelsea, I'm a big Chelsea supporter. When Makalale first went there - being a D-mid, he's like my idol - I followed him. I had admiration for Essien, Obi Mikel went there, Drogba, Terry, Lampard, when they first started coming up, that's the team I support.

ICS: Since we are a Sacramento Republic blog, I have to ask you, have you been keeping up with the Republic?

Okugo: Oh yeah, I've definitely been keeping up. Once Sacramento announced they got the USL team - it was actually a long time coming that they finally got a team. The talent in the Sacramento area is there, the exposure, the popularity of soccer is there. I've been following it, my brother plays in the San Juan Academy and went to the 2014 final with my dad when the went to the final against Harrisburg... they followed them last year too when they got an early exit [from the playoffs]. I know some of the players and I keep in touch with some of the players there.

ICS: You went pro pretty young, with just one year of college ball at UCLA. What made you want to get a start on your professional career so quickly?

Okugo: It was my dream, to be honest. I felt like after my season at UCLA the Generation Adidas option - where they pay for your school and allow you to pursue your dream of being a professional soccer player -  was a great situation. It gave me security, gave me the ability to pursue my profession. I just took it with open arms and am trying to play as long as I can.

ICS: You were drafted by the Philadelphia Union and spent four seasons there. How would you describe your overall experience with that team?

Okugo: My overall experience with Philadelphia was great. I came there as a young kid from California, used to good weather all year round and everything going easy, slow paced where everyone is relaxed, to Philly where it's a hard working city, fast paced, really blue-collar where you get what you put in. Philly helped me grow up as a man both on the field and off the field and I wouldn't change it for the world. I still have plenty of close friends in Philly, both on the team and outside of the team, that I keep in touch with. Philly is always going to hold a special place in my heart.

ICS: Unfortunately you were waived last season by Sporting Kansas City and are currently not under contract at a club. What's next for you?

Okugo: I'm just being patient, there's a couple options ahead. It's just a matter of working out certain things and waiting for everything to fall into place and hopefully something can happen sooner than later. I'm just trying to keep my spirits up and just make sure everything is going to take care of itself.

What do you think about Okugo's story? Let us know in the comments below.