Onyewu leaves strong impression after return to USA starting lineup

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Photo by Howard C. Smith/ISIphotos.com


By MIKE NASTRI

HARRISON, N.J. — The U.S. men's national team might have lost to Ecuador on Tuesday night, but there was one overwhelming bright spot for Jurgen Klinsmann and Co.

Oguchi Onyewu is back.

In Onyewu's first full 90-minute game for the United States since the World Cup match against England, the 6-foot-4 centerback proved to be the enforcer that U.S. fans remember from the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup. 

Onyewu moved freely, unhampered by the knee surgery that has plagued him for the past two years. Gooch, as he's affectionately called by fans and teammates, won ball after ball, both in the air and on the ground. 

"Gooch in the back, he's back," said U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann. "It was awesome to see. He's getting his rhythm, and his presence is amazing and really good to watch." 

Centerback is a shallow position for the United States, and Klinsmann has been unable to find a capable partner for captain Carlos Bocanegra. Michael Orozco Fiscal, who had started three of the four matches under Klinsmann prior to Tuesday, has failed to impress, while Clarence Goodson, who started every match for the United States in the Gold Cup earlier this summer, has started only once since the German took over the reins. 

Onyewu, who was a staple in the back for the U.S. teams that won two Gold Cups and finished runners-up in that memorable Confederations Cup run, seized his opportunity to start after a strong substitute performance against Honduras on Saturday, reminding everyone that he can still be that intimidating presence in the back. 

"Gooch is an important guy for us," said midfielder Michael Bradley. "When you look at the national team in the last four, five, six years, Gooch has played a big role in its success. He's a guy that we count on. I think everyone is excited that things in Portugal are going well for him. In all ways, we need as many guys as possible fit and sharp and playing regularly for their clubs. He's one of those guys right now and that's a great thing."

Onyewu is finally receiving consistent playing time at the club level, something that hasn't happened since he left Standard Liege at the end of the 2008-09 season. Onyewu already started nine games this season between Sporting Clube de Portugal and the U.S. team, more than half of the total he started all last season when he was sent on loan from AC Milan to FC Twente.

"There's no substitute to playing games," said Onyewu, a two-time Belgian league Best XI selection. "Fortunately I find myself in a good situation with Sporting.

"You get more confidence and you get more comfortable with yourself. I just try and emulate that when I come over here with the national team."

His confidence was on full display against Ecuador on a rare run forward as the United States was pushing for a stoppage-time equalizer. Onyewu, not known for his on-ball technical skill, ran onto a pass from Clint Dempsey, cut back on his defender and slotted a return pass off the outside of his foot to Dempsey, whose shot from just inside the area was ultimately blocked and deflected into the side netting.

Onyewu's resurgent confidence has helped the 29-year-old become a fixture for Sporting, starting the last four league games. All four of those matches resulted in wins as Sporting continues to climb up the table after an 0-1-2 start. If Onyewu can continue to replicate performances like the one he delivered Tuesday, it may not be long until he is once again a fixture for the U.S. team as well. 

"I'm just happy right now," said Onyewu. "I'm in a good place. I feel confident, and a lot of my past injuries are behind me, so I think I can focus more on progressing and going forward from here."

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62 Responses to Onyewu leaves strong impression after return to USA starting lineup

  1. JJJ says:

    Good for Gooch, I did not think he would ever be back to form. I am glad I was wrong.

  2. BellusLudas says:

    Ultimately I think our line up for qualifiers

    —-Altidore—-Donovan—-
    ———-Dempsey———
    —Shea-Bradley-Williams—
    Chandler–Boca-Gooch—Dolo
    ———Howard———

    4-3-3 with Shea and Williams pinched to make room for Chandler and Dolo to get forward. The three up top should be able to interchange and create on the fly.

    Welcome back Gooch!

  3. Poo says:

    I was not in favor of Gooch before the Ecu game but he was fantastic.

    My fears that he was permanently damaged as a result of the knee injury are nearly gone. He was quick and nimble, had fantastic awareness and anticipation, and great positional sense.

    He also had a classic gooch moment late in the 2nd half when the Ecu player just bounced off him like a brick wall (and then the Ecu player got a yellow for faking injury from it).

  4. malkin says:

    And to think he’s still only 29…

  5. Marco says:

    My favorite part of the game was late when a Ecuador striker came crashing in, flailing his arms about to scare Gooch off the ball. Gooch held his ground absorbed the impact, tossed the striker down, then played the ball forward. As an after thought he looked down in disdain at the crumpled Ecuadorian, a very Borghetti like take down.
    The long run and cut-back were also top notch. Best player on the pitch.

  6. MattfromMemphis says:

    Same here. I hope he’s back for good. I will happily eat a big crow after he plays full games in November.

  7. Murph says:

    Crossing my fingers that Holden returns early on in the qualifiers:

    ———-Altidore———

    ——Dempsey————–

    Shea——Holden—-Donovan

    ———-Bradley———-

    F. Johnson-John-Onyewu-Chandler

    As much as I love Dolo and his experience, I think Chandler has shown to be better class and believe that Fabian Johnson will turn out to be the best player out of the German contingent. The above lineup, in my opinion, gives Klinsmann the best attacking, ball controlling, lineup.

    If Ream ever gets his form back, I see him potential replacing John as he possess the most promise from a ball control perspective of any CB in the field.

  8. Murph says:

    For some reason my computer felt the need to post this 3 times. Must have agreed with my thoughts.

  9. Good to see Gooch back to his old self … and quite possibly, better than before. This will be Gooch’s and Boca’s last World Cup cycle … hope we can sort out the #2 and #3 behind each of them.

  10. Murph says:

    Loved it. That’s the moment I knew he was back.

  11. danny says:

    I also was not excited about Gooch playing for the NATS after his performances the last 2 years and his lack of passing/skills. But after Ecuador, I see that he still has an important role to play. However, I would not want to see him paired with Bocanegra in the center- going forward we should only have one strong/not so quick defensive enforcer in the back. Good paired with a quicker/more skilled player makes the most sense, especially in the system that Klinsman is trying to develop. I am also skeptical as to whether Gooch will be where he’s at now in WC 2014, so we should still be developing other big/enforcer type CBs. .

  12. Patrick Bateman says:

    It’s good news he’s back. Truthfully I think these friendlies give us a lot of positive. We pretty much have our defensive starters locked down in Chandler, Boca, Gooch, and Dolo, that’s great to have that set already. In midfield we can say fairly confidently that Brek will be playing, Donovan will be playing, Bradley/Williams/Edu/Beckerman will combine, with maybe Adu seeing the pitch for a creative injection. Up top we have Altidore and Dempsey at least playing better together, that’s a lot of good things set before qualifying starts. Of course they’ll be able to get their offensive flow together against the likes of Bermuda et al. but having that much set is a positive.

  13. downintexas says:

    My favorite part was the Gooch stare down. Man I saw it on TV and was scared both for myself and the dude from Ecuador.

    Oh for all of those who counted Gooch out forever, hopefully you all learn from this. Everyones form goes up and down. And no one should ever be written off. Hell not even Johnny Bornstien. What if in 3-4 years he is playing top form with a top european team are you going to hold his past sins against him??? (I doubt this happens but still.)

  14. PetedeLA says:

    I would love this, but Klinsi has to get the memo.

  15. PetedeLA says:

    We eventually need to realize that Donovan is our best pure finisher, with Dempsey a very close second.

    As Donovan gets older he can’t be expected to run the touchline from box to box anymore. Keep his butt in front of goal and let him work his magic in more of a confined space.

    We’re playing pretty well with Klinsman, but we simply need better finishing– as well as better clear-cut chances.

  16. Alex says:

    Gooch roolz.

  17. Jon says:

    GOOOOOOCH!

  18. ted says:

    I agree with the notion that Fabian Johnson is probably going to be our left wingback of the future with Chandler sliding over to his more natural position on the right. Dolo will provide depth. Lichaj will also factor, that guy can play…but it would not shock me overly if Lichaj ends up sliding inside besides Gooch to give the USA some more pace in the back. Get used to DaMarcus Beasley backing up Shea at left wing because unless it’s Johnson there is not a better option there at the moment.

    With Dempsey’s performances at his natural withdrawn forward position, Donovan is back to right wing with Danny Williams backing him up and I think Darlington Nagbe at some point is going to factor in there as well…sucks we lost Andy Najar to Honduras because he could have stepped into Donovan’s spot in time. Freddy Adu will probably be Dempsey’s backup at withdrawn forward at some point as well – unless Sebastian Le Toux gets his citizenship, he could do really well backing up Dempsey in that withdrawn-forward spot as well and with his insane work rate I’d personally prefer him to Adu.

    Holden and Torres will fill the CAM slot, and Beckerman, Edu, Baby Bradley, and Jermaine Jones will fight it out for that holding mid spot…they’re all destroyer-type defensive mids, ultimately. My money’s on Baby Bradley; he’s got the best club situation and he’s the youngest of them and the most upside and that guy is a relentless competitor whatever anyone thinks of him.

    That’s a pretty good and very, very athletic starting 11…I’m less crazy about the depth of the 23-man squad but we’re certainly not going to be starting any Bornsteins or Ricardo Clarks anymore either.

  19. s says:

    I like Bocanegra, but he has a few years on Gooch. I still think he is a starter right now, but if we are going to improve we need someone to step up and WIN his spot in the next couple of years.

  20. BrianVT says:

    “We eventually need to realize that Donovan is our best pure finisher, with Dempsey a very close second.”

    I’m not entirely sure I can get on board with you on this. I think Dempsey has at least equaled Donovan, and maybe even surpassed him, while Donovan has become our best play-maker. If you look at the hand-on-a-hot-stove instinctiveness that Dempsey has shown in his goalscoring over the past two years, for both Fulham & USMNT, it would be hard to point to very many goals that LD has scored that CD hasn’t either equaled or bettered.

    I’d say CD is our best pure finisher now, with LD a very close second. I’m content to agree to disagree, because they’re so close that it could really go either way.

  21. wilyboy says:

    Next camp had better see John and Gonzalez called in. 1) They’re the best prospects 2) We know Gooch is the one who will need a partner and 3) because Greece and Mexico are, respectively, increasingly appetizing teams.

  22. Felix says:

    He’ll be 32 by 2014, which means while not exactly a spring chicken, he can still be more than effective, especially factoring in that CBs can be still play very well into their 30s.

  23. BrianVT says:

    Oh, what’s that? This article is about Gooch? Oh yea. Good stuff. Best of luck to him. Patellar tendon is a *HUGE* injury. It is a really testament to his commitment and dedication that he has been able to come back from that! :-)

  24. 0021 says:

    Agreed. I’ve never been a fan actually, even when he’s in top form. But he was very solid the other night. Kudos to him and hopefully he keeps it up.

  25. Vic says:

    Agree with everything, but I would throw in Torres because I think he’s definately part of Klinnsmann mix.

  26. golfstrom says:

    Gooch seriously had his mojo back. His injury at the end of WCQ was severely underestimated…we basically lost a starting CB out of thin air. The Gooch in SA was not the same. Love the channeling of CR7 on the cutback.

  27. PanchoMiguelMoralesdeConejo says:

    Mark my words….It’ll be Gooch +1..not Boca +1 in 6 months…
    So the Lichaj at CB comment is a possibility…but my guess & money would be on Ream. I’m not saying I would do this, I’m saying Klinsman will.

  28. ford says:

    Gooch looked strong….

    I’d love to see Geoff Cameron get regular time at center back in Houston and then be given a chance by Jurgen..

    He has immense talent… is fast… very good with the ball and has good height…

  29. Russ says:

    I would like to see some of our current pool of defensive midfielders given a shot at central defense. Maurice Edu and Ricardo Clark have had short stints for country/club. I would like to see Jermaine Jones there. JK wants both athleticism and distribution out of this position and not sure if MLS defenders can make the jump to where we want to go internationally.

  30. Adam M. says:

    Gooch basically played striker for the last 10 mintues or so against Ecuador lurking in the area as the US looked for the equalizer. He looked as dangerous as anyone and certainly presents different problems for a defense. Confed Cup-form Gooch was a whole new level of player and if we are getting that form or better, it solves a ton of problems for us.

  31. jbrader says:

    I don’t want to read your post. You talk too much, and way off topic.

  32. Adam M. says:

    Not sure Boca is there. His glaring weakness remains the frequency he kicks a playable ball out of bounds or dumps it to no one. Better central defenders take a touch and find a pass more often, which Klinsi wants and is why Fiscal and especially Ream have gotten a hard look. If Gonzo or John (or someone else) show that and do the rest well, they will take Boca’s starting sport by 2014.

  33. Vic says:

    Bradley has tried to play Edu as a defender in the past and it hasn’t worked. Clark may be a possibility. Also Danny Williams.

  34. Pez says:

    everyone that was “counting out” Gooch was saying he wasn’t up to form, which he wasn’t.

    don’t proclaim to be psychic, Ms. Cleo. Gooch was a shell of himself and the criticism he received was warranted.

    now? well, you aren’t exactly in the minority of believing he’s back. stop pounding your chest.

  35. DC Josh says:

    The Gooch is back. Love it. As he says, Bless!

  36. JJ says:

    Edu at CB!

  37. Mike says:

    Anyone know where Bedoya stands on JK’s radar? Is Bedoya’s lack of action due to getting settled at Rangers? He looked awesome at the Gold Cup- would be nice to slot him in as some depth on the wings…

    By the way- not meaning to detract from the article on Gooch. Couldn’t be more thrileed that he is back!

  38. Stephen says:

    We should take that into consideration when talking about Davies too.

  39. ACS says:

    They won’t be in the November camp unless they lose early in the playoffs. So it will most likely be the January camp unless they move over to Europe, then it will be pushed back to February.

  40. Murph says:

    I think he’s slid down the depth chart a bit below Donovan and Williams, which I agree with.

  41. MicahK says:

    We are playing pretty well under Klinsmann ? What games have you been watching ? We have only beat a partially stacked Honduran team who were missing a lot of players. -___-

  42. Marco says:

    Gooch needs to give a few ‘tough guy’ lessons to Tim Ream. Klinsmann backed Ream in the post game interview, and Ream said,
    “There’s not one thing that you can point to but it’s tough.”

    Yes there is Tim, you need to be more physical, in body and temper. That he can learn at club, Klinsi.

  43. Cylo says:

    Man you guys act like Holden is Messi type. The more he stays out the more hype that is built up on him.

    Btw I’m glad Gooch is back. I didn’t think he would return to form and I am also thankful that I am wrong. We have nobody in this Pool that plays like Gooch in the middle

  44. pd says:

    wow i hadn’t thought of LD up top… so used to seeing him in the MF… I like it

  45. pd says:

    it’s charming how these threads inevitably turn to “so let’s celebrate whop is great and get the knives out for how isn’t.”

  46. Dennis says:

    Klinsmann seems to really like Beckerman. While few of us have been very accurate at predicting Klinsmann’s starting 11, it now looks like a safe bet that Altidore, Dempsey, Donavon, Shea, Beckerman, Chandler, Onyewu, Cherundolo, Boca and probably Williams, maybe Torres or F. Johnson will figure prominently in his future starting lineups. That is not my choice, but is what I surmise from who Klinsmann has started and the comments he has made.

    It takes a lot longer to discuss those Klinsmann seems to think are the 2nd tier (and whether or not they are good enough for even that). I think that right now Klinsmann feels that Bradley, Edu, Orozco, Castilla and Aguedelo are in that group and that Holden will join them in several months.

  47. CroCajun1003 says:

    Agree 100% with all of this.

  48. CroCajun1003 says:

    Agree. LD is a playmaker that can score. CD is a scorer that can make plays.

    Also, Gooch being back is probably the best thing that could have happened to this team. Gives us time for our young guns, Ream, Gonzo, John, Boss, to develop and sort themselves out.

    Hopefully, in 3 years one of these 4 players asserts himself as the next great American defender.

    Onyewu is the man. Glad he’s back.

    (On a side note, I know Gooch gets blasted for booting the ball down field, but watch the game again, many of those long balls were well targeted and created chances.)

  49. Mike Bassett says:

    This is a great lineup, although I wish Agudelo would start over Altidore.

  50. danny says:

    I agree that we should try moving one of our center mids or versatile skill players to CB. This happens all the time. Not sure about Edu though. He’s got talent, but I find his decision making suspect and his attacking capabilities are suspect (killed an amazing chance against Ecuador that came from passing sequence between Dempsey and Shea- he was right in front of goal and he one touched it to goal keeper. I think it is pretty clear that Bradley Jr. is a better all around CM and he has more experience, so i’m not so sure why Klinsman seems to be favoring Edu.

  51. danny says:

    Pancho- I agree with you, but I’d hope it happens sooner than 6 months. Bocanegra made a couple horrendous passes to Ecuadorean players that could have easily led to goals. I think those types of mistake are worse than Tim Ream’s slightly slower reaction to cross and weak physicality on Ecuador’s goal.

  52. nyjer1 says:

    aslo in mix are torres, holden and Bedoya. Still think Lichej is or best bet long term to start opposite chandler.

  53. Alex G says:

    Great lineup, I love it, it makes total sense and it´s our strongest eleven.

  54. Brett says:

    Glad he looks like he is back to form. I still think Bradley made a huge mistake trying to rush him back for the World Cup.

  55. pd says:

    how can you say that’s our strongest 11 when John hasn’t even been called into a camp and F. Johnson hasn’t lineup in for a match yet.

  56. pd says:

    32 is not old for a center back

  57. pd says:

    No. Criticism is one thing, but there were tons of folks writing him off and out and out kicking the man when he was down. Same thing with Davies. You never hear that about Holden.

    You can be critical of the decision to play him, frustrated by a lack of form. But you can’t deny there was a lot of punting going on on this board and a lot of other ones about how Gooch was finished.

  58. pd says:

    what impressed me most was his comfort with the ball at his feet and the fact that the ECUs gave him space on the ball…

  59. Lost in Space says:

    I’d like to see Geoff Cameron, Zack Whitbread, George John, and Omar Gonzales all get called into a camp at the same time as JK’s apparent chosen ones (Orozco & Ream) to see who actually should be 2nd/3rd string on the center back depth chart behind Boca & Gooch.

  60. BrianVT says:

    Klinni would be a fool to rate Holden “2nd tier”. Junior, too. He’s starting Beck in order to reward him for good performances when Junior wasn’t available, but when the games count, I expect Junior will be the starter, along w/ Holden, Shea, & Landy. JFT, Edu, Becks will be (a close) 2nd tier, and Demps will start as withdrawn forward, with Agu backing up Alti.

  61. GW says:

    Have you actually seen Johnson play?

  62. GW says:

    “Better central defenders take a touch and find a pass more often, which Klinsi wants and is why Fiscal and especially Ream have gotten a hard look. ”

    Is it possible that Boca has no one open to pass the ball to?

    Off the ball movement remains a weakness with US players.