This Tuesday, fan across the country were surprised with by the news that Oguchi Onyewu had agreed to a three year contract with A.C. Milan. The surprise, however, was not that an American player had finally broken through to play for one of the world's top clubs, but rather that it was Onyewu, the solid, yet never spectacular center back who broke the barrier, rather than one of the many exciting, yet flawed, young play makers the U.S. media falls in love with on a regular basis. But regardless of the hype- or lack there of- that usually surrounds Onyewu, one thing is certain. That is, that from this moment forward, each and every one of Onyewu's moves, both on the field and off, will be scrutinized by media outlets across the world, because by signing with Italian powerhouse, Onyewu became the defacto ambassador of American "soccer" to the entire "football" playing world.
Since the U.S.'s stellar performance at the 2002 World Cup, it has been widely assumed by soccer fans, both domestically around the world, that it was only a matter of time before an American player broke through into the big time. Surely, we thought, at least one, if not more, of the young studs from the 2002 squad had what it took to play with the world's finest. But flame out after flame out- from Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan in Germany, to DaMarcus Beasley in the Netherlands, had the fans rethinking their stances. The great letdown of the 2006 World Cup merely cemented the widely accepted view that the U.S. had a ways to go before they could even thinking about hanging with the world's big boys.
But then a funny thing happened. Things started going (gasp) ,right, for the Americans. The team began a near complete domination of arch rival Mexico, played surprisingly well in friendlies against England, Spain, and Argentina, and, most importantly, won the 2007 Gold Cup, earning themselves a spot at the prestigious Confederation Cup two summers later. After kicking off the Confederations Cup with an embarrassing loss to the Azzurri, followed by an equally painful defeat at the hands of the Brazilians, the squad captured the nation's attention by qualifying for the semi-final round in dramatic fashion by crushing a talented Egyptian club. They followed that effort up with a victory over Spain, the top club in the world, before squandering a two goal lead in the final against Brazil. Still, a second place finish was more than applauded by the American public.
So what, you ask, is the moral of this story? Simple. That nothing is ever as it seems with the U.S. soccer team. So maybe then, upon further review, it is fitting that Onyewu, the constant afterthought, is the player with the chance to change the perception of American soccer. Perhaps a successful campaign from Onyewu, coupled with some decent play from the studly Jozy Altidore, will provide just the push the U.S. needs to be successful at the upcoming World Cup. But then again, there's also that strong possibility that this time next year Gooch will be getting fitted for a Columbus Crew jersey. You just never know with this team. And call me crazy, but I kind of like it that way.