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The Curious Career Of Oguchi Onyewu

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.

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  1. Dave C

    January 28, 2011 at 9:55 am

    How old is Gooch?

    I’ve only seen him play a handful of times (mostly for the US, but also in friendlies for Milan. I probably saw him at Newcastle too, but if so I have forgotten). From what I’ve seen, I’m amazed he got a contract at Milan in the first place. He’s a big guy, but that’s where his qualities end. If anything, he’s too big – he seems slow and clumsy.

    I don’t like to be a hater, but I’ve never understood the American hype about this guy. If anything, he should be grateful to his agent for helping carve out a professional career for this big lump.

  2. Charles

    January 27, 2011 at 4:59 pm

    I am not saying it is just an American problem. I never said that, never even came close, read my comment. I couldn’t care less about other nations national team. I root for the US.
    I AM saying that our guys are not getting playing time/moving around constantly/etc. and it is hurting our national team.

    We need a strong league here to help solve that.
    I know Brazil doesn’t need that. I don’t care….we do.

    Support soccer in the US -Charles

    ps. Philly has sold out their opener. Dallas season tickets sales are up 300% ( is that 3 tickets, not sure ).
    I think this will be a huge year for MLS. Hopefully it is not too much longer until my vision comes true. Jay DeMerit style. Portland and Vancouver will be some of the biggest draws.

    • Earl Reed

      January 27, 2011 at 6:21 pm

      Exactly Charles. I would characterize Gooch as having a lack of direction in his career. I assume he has an agent, but at this point he is not getting good advice. He’d be better off at Twente full term, than toiling away in the second team at Milan. Of course Eredivisie isn’t as strong as Serie A, but in my opinion he needs to PLAY. Period.

      I know his career has been impeded by injury caused by USMNT participation. And I’m sure he feels bad that he missed a full year for Milan, but they should know very well that it was a freak incident and that he’s not trying to screw them over. He just wants playing time. He has it now at Twente on loan, and hopefully Milan understands and lets him go if they believe he’s not going to crack the first team.

    • Joe

      January 28, 2011 at 7:44 am

      Brazil doesn’t need a strong league? Brazil has a strong league. Most of their national team plays overseas, but the Brasilierao is currently ranked the 4th best league in the world – ahead of the Italian league. That is even with the constant swooping in of European clubs poaching their top talent. For every international quality player we have, Brazil has 20. That’s just the reality of the talent disparity we face right now, and I don’t think keeping our top players from going to Europe will do anything to address that.

      • Earl Reed

        January 28, 2011 at 8:38 am

        If soccer were the most popular professional sport in the United States, we would almost certainly have a top 5 league. That’s because money talks, and Americans love (and pay for) sports. But it’s not, we’re lucky if it cracks the top 10 in most popular sports. If you give a fast, well-coordinated, talented 15 year-old boy the choice between heavy training towards American football and soccer, 9 times out of 10 he’s going to choose the pigskin. His chances of becoming a professional at either are slim, but American football is sexier and more lucrative in this country. Not only that, but with soccer the international talent pool is so much stronger.

        • Dave C

          January 28, 2011 at 9:51 am

          If you give a fast, well-coordinated, talented 15 year-old boy the choice between heavy training towards American football and soccer, 9 times out of 10 he’s going to choose the pigskin
          The number of times this nonsense is repeated (and believed) on the internet drives me nuts. You can’t just “choose” at the age of 15 to train towards becoming a professional soccer player. If you don’t already have the important basic skills by then, then it is already too late. It’s not a matter of choice.

          • Earl Reed

            January 28, 2011 at 12:28 pm

            Yes, it’s an oversimplified example. The point is supposed to be that these kids do choose one over the other. One option would be to throw our hands in the air and say, “This is impossible, screw it, let’s give up.” We don’t have the culture in our country for kids to go out and play soccer in the park; you’re much more likely to see a pickup basketball game. Youth soccer seems to be compartmentalized in the US. The only time you play it is on Saturday or Sunday morning when everyone has their equipment on, similar to Little League, except kids see baseball on Sportscenter every day from March through October.

          • Charles

            January 28, 2011 at 1:37 pm

            Maybe DaveC, maybe, I disagree, but maybe 15 years is too late.

            My son is a total stud in soccer.
            While just ok/good in basketball.

            why ?
            Same kid, same ability, but the studs are focusing on basketball at a VERY young age. IF there were money in soccer, like basketball that would be the same for soccer.
            IT is not.

            Back to my point. Bradley going to Turkey to play after his team sucks to the point of relegation zone. Add another one to that column.

          • Dave C

            January 28, 2011 at 7:52 pm

            I think kids effectively “choose” football WAY before they have any real concept of money. They choose it for cultural reasons (i.e. because everyone else in their class is playing it, or because their dad plays with them in the yard, etc), rather than money reasons. I think this would have to change if the US was ever to get huge numbers of people playing soccer.

            If it was simply about making money, all the kids would focus on becoming Formula 1 drivers.

          • Dave C

            January 28, 2011 at 7:57 pm

            re: your son being a “stud” (sorry, being English I giggle at the American use of that word) at soccer, but only OK at baseball/basketball. How do you know he has the “same ability” at both? Has he spent an equal number of hours in his life practicing each sport at a relatively comparable level? I think there’s a multitude of reasons you may be a stud at one sport, but only moderate at something else.

  3. montana lucky

    January 27, 2011 at 2:39 pm

    Is it Charles? Is falling out a favor and moving around a uniquely American problem or does it happen to players in every national team’s pool? Or am i totally reading you wrong?

  4. Charles

    January 27, 2011 at 1:50 pm

    Please people support soccer in the US. We need nat. players like this playing at home eventually.

    They need it too.
    The “falling out of favor” comments are too many, too frequent.
    The relegation and other reasons for them moving around are rampant.

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