AMOBI OKUGO could very well make his 100th start with the Union tomorrow night.
But could it also be his last at PPL Park?
Okugo, the lone member of the club for each of its five seasons, is one of several key Union players facing an uncertain future here. The skilled and versatile midfielder is playing on a contract that expires at season's end, which last Saturday's debacle against Columbus ensured to be a week from Sunday.
With the end of Maurice Edu's 1-year loan from Stoke City looming - the Union has an option to purchase - and Conor Casey's contract also expiring, the front office has tough decisions ahead. Okugo's prospects with the Chester-based club will be among the top story lines to watch in the coming offseason.
Okugo, as professional a 23-year-old as you will find in pro sports, has remained mum on potential contract negotiations, instead keeping the focus on the current team. While answering a question this week regarding the Union's final two games, he mentioned finishing the season strong as a team to "prepare for next year."
But Amobi, what about your contract?
"I heard about that, yeah," he said, grinning.
"We've still got two games left so [my mindset is] just focusing on the two games," he continued. "And then once the season's over we can focus on that."
While Okugo said he will "answer more on it when it gets to that," he did say he would like to return next season. He's spent the last 5 years of life here and owns a condo in the city. But he also understands the business aspect of MLS. He has seen the trades of two other members of the Union's first draft class, Danny Mwanga and Jack McInerney. Who would've ever thought, Okugo noted, Sebastien Le Toux would be dealt like he was in 2012?
Growing up in California, Okugo always aspired to one day play in Europe. That remains an aspiration but, he said this week, "you've got to go when the time is right."
"You can't just go to go," he said. "You've got to go to a situation where you can grow as a player and develop as a player. I'm developing here. I feel like I've developed a lot over the last 3 years when I started establishing myself within the first team."
Of Okugo, Union interim manager Jim Curtin said, "He's been here from the start. He's a fan favorite. He's a guy that has aspirations to play in Europe, and we'll see how that goes in the offseason. If he wants to explore that option, that is an option. But yeah, those are some discussions that will happen toward the end of the year."
For now, Okugo is focusing on soccer and the last two games of "a roller coaster" of a season. Despite not qualifying for the playoffs for the fourth time in five seasons, he said the team will have no problem finding motivation against third-place Sporting Kansas City tomorrow and on the road against the fifth-place Columbus Crew on Oct. 26.
The Union's objective, Okugo said, is still to get six points. And in the process, "if Columbus needs a result in their last game and we ruin it for them," he said, "I would really be happy about that."
"So that's my goal. I'm hoping for them to rely on getting a result against us the last game."
Sebastien Le Toux (right ankle) is questionable to play tomorrow. Aside from him, the only other Union player battling an injury, according to Jim Curtin during his news conference Tuesday, is Conor Casey (knee) . . . If you were expecting tomorrow to serve as a showcase for some of the Union's less-proven players, think again. Curtin said he will play the best team to keep the integrity of the playoff race. "I'm not going to just throw out all of a sudden all these guys just because the season's over," he said. "I still believe in playing the guys who earn it during the week in practice" . . . Rais M'Bolhi has been representing Algeria in the Africa Cup of Nations and isn't expected to return to the team until today at the earliest, so Zac MacMath likely will start in net.