Oguchi Onyewu: Thoughts, emotions and hopes with an eye on USA’s World Cup roster
Oguchi Onyewu, 31, is aiming to make the U.S. World Cup roster for the third time in his career. After being a first-choice U.S. center back for years, he has combatted injuries, fluctuating club situations and a rising generation of U.S. defenders for his place on the national team but still maintains hope at being one of the 23 players on the plane to Brazil. He is available for selection for Sheffield Wednesday this weekend after missing two weeks with a Grade 1 calf strain, and these are his thoughts, emotions and hopes as told to SI.com by him — the first in a series — as the weeks tick down to Jurgen Klinsmann’s final roster selection.
It’s never fun to be injured, especially to have to do rehab to get back, and even more so when there’s a goal you need to achieve and the time frame is breathing down your neck.
This was quite different, because I’ve had injuries obviously in my career, but I haven’t had a muscle injury, and [doctors] said that’s strange that I’m 31 years old, and I’ve never had a muscle injury, but this is the very first one. Thankfully it wasn’t Grade 2 or higher, so it took two weeks of rehab and I’m back.
World Cup year, I think for any player that is in contention to participate, is just like a joker in the deck of cards. It kind of overrules every kind of focus for that season leading to the World Cup. I know this January transfer window was probably a little bit busier in terms of everybody else in contention to make their World Cup team around the world. Everybody wants to find a situation that is conducive to putting all their chances in a positive light to make it to the World Cup.
Basically that’s why I came [to Sheffield Wednesday] from QPR, just to get the games I need to be seen, playing in games so people can follow my fitness and my performance and my form. Perhaps if it wasn’t a World Cup year maybe I would’ve just stuck with it at QPR and seen how the season went in regards to me getting an opportunity. Having the World Cup in June and it’s already January, I needed that instant gratification in terms of having an opportunity to showcase my abilities.
You have the stopwatch already started. you’re counting down the days and you just have to make the most of the short time you have right now. That’s what I’m trying to do.
[Getting hurt in the midst of that] sucks, to just be blunt, because I’ve been — since the Gold Cup in terms of having to step out with an ankle injury and then all the controversy that surrounded the summer transfer window and finding QPR and everything else — having six months without an official game, and I hit the ground running with Sheffield.
First game I had an assist, second game I had a goal, and I’m in good form and then literally in the 96th minute [vs. Barnsley on Feb. 1], the last minute of extra time, this strain on my calf and everything. Injuries you want to avoid, but I thank God, it could’ve been much worse, it could’ve been a much more devastating injury that some players have had this season. Look at Falcao at Monaco. Tremendous injury that requires months of rehab instead of weeks.
In that sense I was very fortunate to come off on just two weeks. In terms of getting back into rhythm again I think I did myself justice by the games that I’ve played, letting [manager Stuart Gray] know what I can contribute to the team and how I can help in terms of the overall performance. I think I left a good taste in his mouth and he is aware of what I can do. After that it’s just wait until you get selected.
Right now, the immediate is Sheffield Wednesday coach Stuart Gray, then after that obviously Jurgen for the World Cup. They’re definitely aware of all my statuses in terms of injury, rehabilitation, my form. They know that I’m available for selection this weekend as well. They’re not in the shadows at all in terms of anything that I’m doing over here.
I don’t want to put so much pressure and say [the upcoming March U.S. camp] is do or die. But from this point forward, every opportunity, every chance you get is definitely important. It’s pivotal. It’s going to mean something. If I have an opportunity to be in that camp, I’m definitely going to make the most of it, especially since I haven’t been back since last summer, to get my face seen to let them know that I’m picking up where I left off and to put all doubt aside in a way.
There’s been a lot of negative talk in terms of my form. I’ve had three, three and a half, four years of just unlucky publicity. Sometimes false rumors, sometimes true, about injuries and stuff like that. The person that I am is just fight through all that adversity and try to make the most of the present situation and come out on top. If I’m selected in that camp, if everything goes well and that camp is actually played regardless of the situation in [Ukraine], I’m going to make the most of it.
[Having Klinsmann mention him by name in a U.S. Soccer Q&A regarding players still in World Cup contention] is great. Obviously he still considers me in contention for the World Cup. As a player it’s good to know that your coach hasn’t given up on you. For me, in terms of what I’m doing, I’m doing everything in my power to kind of give justfiication behind his words.
I think the last, I don’t know how many years I’ve played on the national team, outside of injuries I’ve had I’ve been able to perform and I’ve been able to help this national team to a lot of important victories and a lot of important performances on the pitch. I think that right now it’d be silly to say that I’m done and that I’m washed up as if i’m 40 years old or something like that when I still have a lot to give. I’m still proving it out here in Europe. Until I feel that I can’t contribute I’m glad that coaches see that I still have a lot of ability to give back to the team, and I’ll do everything in my power to do so.