One v One with Amobi Okugo


Amobi Okugo has seen success on the soccer field at just about every level. He's a seasoned MLS veteran who has spent many years in the league, but he's also active off the field with his A Frugal Athlete initiative. We had the chance to chat with Amobi about his career and life both on and off the field. 

Tell us a bit about the early years of Amobi.

I'm Amobi Okugo, I'm a first generation Nigerian-American and I was born in Hayward, California but raised in Sacramento. I started playing soccer right when I was able to walk. My dad use to take me to the park and we would play soccer until I was tired or cried. I didn't play organized soccer until kindergarten and because I was new and  no one could pronounce my name I was put on the "b" team. 

Growing up in Nigerian household we supported the Nigerian national team mostly. Luckily for me, it was during Nigeria's Golden Generation when they went to the 94 WC and lost to Italy and won the 96 olympics vs Brazil, so I was always around soccer. 

Growing up in Sacramento with my 3 younger siblings was great. I played both basketball and soccer, but soccer was always my first love. I played for the school team up until 4th grade when I finally joined my local competitive team. During that time we had ODP, so I started off with the district team and was fortunate enough to make it all the way to the regional team. From the regional team, that's where I was scouted for our 91 age group's first U-14 USMNT identification camp.

You have been in the league for a while now and played for a few different teams. What are a few of the main ways you have seen the league evolve since you have been in it?

It's crazy to think  that I've been in the league for 8 years. It's great to see how it's evolved even from when I was a rookie until now. I think the league continues to  evolve every year and it's been great to be a part of that change. One change has been the exposure. I remember my early years I had to watch some MLS games on some internet streams and now I'm able to watch triple headers on Fox Sports. My uncles in Nigeria call my dad and say they watch some of my games, and I'm like on what channel because I know they don't have MLS Live.

Another way the league has evolved is sports analytics. My first couple years it was the standard cooper test and mile test to gauge our fitness. Now we have gps monitors and heart rate readings and overload days and all that. It's been interesting to see how technology, science, and data has helped us as players and given us new ways to get our fitness so to speak. Even from a recovery standpoint, it's more than ice baths now. Clubs have yoga instructors coming in consistently when we use to have to do that on our own. 

The competition has evolved tremendously, international talent, domestic talent , younger players everyone for the most part can hold their own. What I've realized that I'm not surprised anymore when it comes to MLS making big signings. What I mean by that, with the exception of the top 15-25 players in the world, I don't get surprised by any MLS signings anymore. That shows how far MLS has grown, not just getting guys that are towards the end of their career you look at some of the signings that have happened in the last four years and it shows how far MLS has come.  


You have a website alled Frugal Athlete - Can you talk about that a bit, tell us when you started it, the backstory with it and what your goals are with the site?

So A Frugal Athlete is basically a platform/project designed to promote financial literacy and prudent financial practices amongst professional athletes. The mission  is to provide an insider's look into the personal financial play books of athletes. Many times athletes aren't shown in the best light when it comes to handling their finances so we try to highlight different ways to change that narrative. Not everyone is going to be Lebron James, so athletes need to be smart with their money to make it last longer than their careers. 

I started it about a year ago with the help of my brother and best friend. I've always been interested in business specifically sports business but when looking around for positive examples of athletes doing well in business ventures it was either finding players that didn't do so well for whatever circumstances or once in a lifetime athletes that are the franchise players and won't need to worry about work post career.

My ultimate goals for the site are to make it a major platform to learn about financial education and different financial strategies that can help your own personal playbook for not only professional athletes but student athletes and fans that follow these athletes. As professional athletes, we are natural trend setters. So if athletes are seen being smart with their money, others will follow suit. Hopefully we can grow and work with various companies and players union to continue to promote financial literacy whether it's at a rookie symposiums or College student-athlete conference. 


How has A Frugal Athlete been embraced by athletes and fellow MLS players? Do they see the importance of financial literacy and planning?

A Frugal Athlete has been embraced well by a number of athletes both current and retired including MLS players. It's been a blessing to share the project with fellow athletes and see them help spread the word or take the time to either do an interview or write a piece for the site. I think with the MLS guys, it's been very cool to see because these a gentlemen I know personally or have competed against for a number of years. 

I think athletes do see the importance of financial literacy and planning. I think it helps when other players are talking about it because we all can relate. For MLS especially, we aren't collectively on the high end salary wise compared to the other leagues where we would be able to not have to worry about work after we retire. I think players see the importance of budgeting right, investing smartly, and having transition plan. In terms of MLS players, the league is growing as well as the salaries and players are coming into the league at younger ages, that is why financial literacy and planning is necessary. In other sports, you see an increase in entrepreneurship and investing, that is another reason why you see athletes taking an initiative in understanding their finances. 

What do the next few years look like for A Frugal Athlete?

Personally, I think A Frugal Athlete only has room to grow. We hope to continue to provide content and information because that is what we feel is most important for the audience. We hope to be more involved with the various players unions across the different sports as well as open up more platforms to get the information across whether through video or webinars. We plan to incorporate a specific student athlete platform in the near future and hopefully come out with a series of booklets that can help athletes and individuals with their own financial playbook.

What do you think is the biggest story happening in soccer right now?

The biggest story happening right now in soccer in my opinion would be where does the US go from here in terms of a new coach and new direction. There has been a lot of hot takes with USA not qualifying for the World Cup and it's been a big story. On the outside looking in, it's been interesting to read and hear different viewpoints and philosophies what went wrong and how we can fix it. I think it's definitely the biggest story right now in my opinion.

Two other stories that have caught my attention as well are Bayern Munich's team culture and the rehiring of Jupp Heckeyenes and Argentina's dilemma of trying to get Messi and Dybala on the pitch at the same time.

What is the greatest thing that soccer has given you in your life?

The greatest thing soccer has given me are my life experiences. I think back to some of the best moments in my life , closest friends, places I've been to and they have all stemmed from soccer. It's crazy to think a sport could give you so much but it's been a blessing to get so many of my life experiences through soccer.

What player would you most like to see in MLS?

The one player I would like to see in MLS right now would probably be Balotelli. It would probably never happen but seeing a guy who can dominate the game and bring some flavor to the league would be pretty cool. Balotelli would score goals like crazy but also be outspoken which would be good for MLS.

When did you fall in love with soccer?

I fell in love with soccer when I was 16. Growing up I played basketball and soccer but when it was time to make the full time commitment, I chose soccer without hesitation and that's when I realized I loved soccer.