One of the main concerns for the US Men’s National Team over the last few years is defensive coverage, especially in the first 15 minutes of every match. The one stalwart that always seems to give us hope as a center half is Oguchi Onyewu. He’s appeared in 58 matches for the United States in his career, and while he has given us glimpses of what he can do, the best word for me that seems to fit his career at this point is…curious.
Curious in that he made his way to Europe right out of Clemson University to Ligue 1 side Metz. In what would seem to become one of two recurring themes in his career, in 2003 he went out on loan to Belgium. There he played well enough to land himself a permanent transfer to Standard Liege in 2004. In the course of 5 years at the Belgian club, he appeared in over 130 matches. Most came after another loan stint, this time in the English Premier League at Newcastle United. While at Newcastle he fell out of favor, but upon returning to Liege he became fixture in the back line.
During these prime years of his career, he also became one of the primary backs for the US National Team, along with Carlos Bocanegra. While he conceded a penalty which contributed to the Americans exit of the 2006 World Cup, his presence has been a stabilizing force our defense. His time spent playing stronger competition in European leagues in those years only helped his place within the team. Standard Liege won the Jupiler League title in ’08 and ’09, and Gooch was a mainstay for those teams.
His contract with Liege ran out in the summer of 2009, and his move to A.C. Milan appeared not only to be a chance for him to get back to playing in one of the top three leagues, but also to get into a talented team that would threaten in the Champion’s League. But good plans don’t always work out, and disaster struck in the form of a ruptured patella tendon during qualifying for the 2010 World Cup. The 2009-10 season for Milan was wiped out, and while he was able to rejoin the United States in time for the World Cup in South Africa, he lacked fitness and failed to appear in the team’s final two games.
Back in Milan in the fall, he struggled to get starts. It wasn’t for lack of effort, in fact he scrapped with leading scorer Zlatan Ibrahimovic in training, and some thought that show of toughness might help him gain favor within the side. He has even told Milan that he is willing to play the 2012-13 season for them for free, due to his injury for the national team. Thus far, he has been unable to crack a talented back line that includes Alessandro Nesta and Thiago Silva.
So Milan sent him out for another loan period, this time to Eredivisie 2nd place team Twente. He has been getting starts at left back, but in only his third appearance of this season, he was forced to leave their Dutch Super Cup quarterfinal match with PSV Eindhoven with a back injury. The report does not say the extent, but this is yet another potential obstacle to first team football for a guy who may only get one more chance at World Cup glory in 2014.
Onyewu is a solid back, and we watch and wait with curiosity as he tries to get himself back into the form that brought him to Milan. His career continues to get held back, and it’s curious that he has stuck so close to a Milan side that doesn’t appear to need him. I hope this injury is minor, and that he gets right back onto the pitch for Twente, not only because he is a solid defender for our team, but because he has so much potential not to see him get the plaudits he deserves both on the club level as well as the international stage.