As NYCFC hits the midway point of the MLS season, it's hard not to notice the presence of Sean Okoli, who has become a consistent option off the bench and asserted himself as a physical presence over the club’s last few matches.
In a way, the 2016 USL MVP’s career came full circle on Saturday, when he came into a match against the club he signed a homegrown contract for just a few short years ago.
Battling familiar Seattle weather and a familiar Seattle side, the striker shined in his cameo. The need to overcome torrents of rain and a tumult of emotions didn’t faze him in pursuit of the ultimate goal.
“I mean Seattle was my first club, my homegrown club,” said Okoli, “So obviously there was a lot of emotion in this game for me.
“But the plan was always the same: to come out here and get three points in front of our home fans, so I’m glad we got that done.”
Okoli, who is maturing both as an MLS player and a person, cites focus as the defining element of NYCFC’s latest victory, and it’s hard to miss the importance of that focus as the squad – with Okoli’s help – continue to thrive in adverse situations.
He elaborated: “Well, we’re professionals, so it seems like we’ve played in everything. I just thought our focus in today’s game was huge. With the weather or not, we came out here and competed and stuck to our gameplan.”
Though not as scrappy as the win sealed in the dying minutes against Philadelphia just a couple of weeks ago, this victory was also the product of goal-scorers causing havoc and creating opportunities to strike.
Okoli created a big-time opportunity for himself, bulldozing past Sounders midfielder Ozzie Alonso, before being denied by a top-class save from Stefan Frei.
“When I was in there,” explained Okoli, “I feel like me and David caused a lot of problems up top. When I got through and pushed in, he was causing a lot of trouble for the defenders.
“So I just snuck the ball out and got a shot off. The keeper made a good save but there’s more games to come.”
More games to come, indeed. As Sean noted, this wasn’t the first time he’d battled through intense conditions, and it certainly won’t be the last. Even though he was denied a score this time around, it won’t be the last time he gets a shot at that, either.
He summed it up pretty well: “Sometimes you can’t predict how things are going to go on the field, but it’s not my first time playing on a pitch like that. First things first, you’ve got to be smart with your passes. But, nothing new, nothing crazy for us. The important thing is that we got the victory today.”