International Football

Why Oguchi Onyewu Is Key for USA to Have Success at the World Cup

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Joe TanseyFeatured ColumnistApril 11, 2014

As the countdown to the 2014 FIFA World Cup dwindles, the United States men's national team is still in search of consistent play at the center-back position. 

After the 2-2 draw with Mexico on April 2, Omar Gonzalez left the second spot in the starting 11 alongside Matt Besler open for competition.

One player who could contend for that spot in Jurgen Klinsmann's lineup is 31-year-old Oguchi Onyewu, a veteran of two World Cups who is in the middle of a terrific spell of form at Sheffield Wednesday in the second flight of English football. 

Most observers of the national team will quickly pinpoint to Onyewu's less-than-stellar showing against Ukraine on March 5 as the reason why he should not even be considered for the preliminary roster of 30, let alone the final squad of 23. 

But, if you look deeper at his most recent body of work at Sheffield Wednesday, Onyewu deserves a serious look at the position that has been plagued by mediocrity and mistakes throughout the Klinsmann era. 

SHEFFIELD, ENGLAND - JANUARY 11: Bobby Zamora of QPR in action with Oguchi Onyewu of Sheffield Wednesday during the Sky Bet Championship match between Sheffield Wednesday and Leeds United at Hillsborough Stadium on January 11, 2014 in Sheffield, England,
Michael Regan/Getty Images

Onyewu's journey as a club vagabond across Europe is a tale we tell all too often about American players abroad. 

Since his appearance in the 2010 World Cup, the center-back has played for FC Twente, Sporting Lisbon, Malaga and Wednesday. He also signed with Queens Park Rangers in October 2013, but he never appeared for them before he was shipped off to his current club. He also signed with AC Milan, but never appeared in a game for the Italian club. 

That means Onyewu has spent the last four years in search of consistent playing time in five different countries, but all of that is irrelevant at the moment because he is delivering results for the Owls and impressing Klinsmann in the process. 

Since his arrival in January, Onyewu has appeared in 13 matches and helped the Owls pull clear of the relegation zone.

His form for the Championship side was good enough to catch the eye of Klinsmann, and despite a poor showing against Ukraine in Larnaca, Cyprus, he still has to be in the mix at center-back.

LARNACA, CYPRUS - MARCH 05:  Oguchi Onyewu (R) of the USA in action during the Ukraine v USA International Friendly  at Antonis Papadopoulos stadium on March 5, 2014 in Larnaca, Cyprus.  (Photo by Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/Getty Images)
Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/Getty Images

The other options at the position besides Besler and Gonzalez include Clarence Goodson, John Brooks and Geoff Cameron. 

Other players like Michael Parkhurst and Maurice Edu have played center-back before, but neither is expected to challenge at the position if he makes the roster.

That leaves Onyewu with a fighting chance since no other player listed above, sans Cameron and Besler, has proven that he is worthy of a starting spot in Brazil. 

If Cameron does start, he may end up at right-back, a position he has thrived at for Stoke City in the English Premier League. 

Goodson is always a reliable option, but nothing about his game stands out on the world stage, while Brooks is still young and considered a face for 2018. 

Onyewu also has the advantage over the players alongside him on the depth chart because of his past experience at the World Cup. The Clemson University product was involved in one of the best World Cups to date for the United States in 2010 and one of the worst in 2006. 

With those two experiences under his belt, Onyewu knows how to handle himself during the best- and worst-case scenarios at the World Cup. That experience he has could be the deciding factor in the decision to bring him to Brazil or not. 

RUSTENBURG, SOUTH AFRICA - JUNE 12:  Oguchi Onyewu of the United States and Emile Heskey of England battle for the ball during the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa Group C match between England and USA at the Royal Bafokeng Stadium on June 12, 2010 in Rus
Martin Rose/Getty Images

We all know that the attack-minded players like Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley have a ton of experience, but other than Tim Howard in goal and DaMarcus Beasley at left-back, the back four is mostly inexperienced. 

Onyewu can also become a threat on the offensive end if the Yanks end up earning a number of set pieces. Against teams like Germany, Portugal and Ghana, Klinsmann will need another large body in the box to rely on either to score goals or become a distraction so others can get free.

With that being said, Onyewu has to be at least considered for a starting spot in one of the three friendlies leading up to the World Cup to see if he can handle the international pressure once again.

With the second starting center-back slot still up for grabs, Onyewu could become the man who partners Besler if his club form continues and Klinsmann earns trust in him before Brazil.

 

Follow Joe on Twitter, @JTansey90. 

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