Tuesday February 1st, 2011

"Oguchi Onyewu, starting left back for FC Twente."

Upon first glance, that reads more like something found in a fact-checking exercise for journalism students than the truth.

Given Onyewu's dominant showing at the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup and his subsequent signing with Italian power AC Milan, playing an unusual position on loan in the Netherlands less than two years later had to be considered anything but a likely scenario for the United States' physically imposing and No. 1 center back.

But that's the situation in which the 28-year-old veteran of two World Cups currently finds himself, and he couldn't sound more at peace.

"I was pleased to be given the opportunity to play regular football again," Onyewu told SI.com via telephone. "Regardless of how big Milan was, I think a player's aspirations are to play, and at the moment that wasn't where my situation was. It was my responsibility to look for the best situation where I could be happy and playing football. I feel as though I found the right fit for myself, and I'm enjoying my time right now."

The roller-coaster ride that has been Onyewu's last 18 months is well-documented. He suffered a major knee injury in World Cup qualifying in October 2009, derailing his momentum train that was riding at a blistering speed after his role in the United States' upset of Spain and run to the Confederations Cup final.

He parlayed his high stock into a move to the legendary Italian club, but his honeymoon period with Milan lasted all of a couple months.

Onyewu appeared as a substitute in a UEFA Champions League group stage match for the club before rupturing his left patellar tendon against Costa Rica a little more than 15 months ago. Despite beating medical odds and regaining fitness to be a part of this past summer's World Cup, his only notable associations with Milan since then have been pledging to play the final season of his contract (the 2012-13 season) without receiving a salary and reportedly getting into a training-field altercation with Zlatan Ibrahimovic this past November (Onyewu steadfastly refuses to comment on either incident).

Despite being fully fit, he wasn't able to crack the matchday roster once for the club in its current campaign and was left off the club's competition roster for the UEFA Champions League.

"A lot of different things go into consideration when coach's decisions are made," Onyewu said. "I don't try to read too much into the reasons. I try to focus on working as hard as I can and making me the best me I can be. After that, if it doesn't work out, then you have to reassess your plans and start over, which is what I'm doing right now."

Given his tenuous position with the club and his desperate need for playing time ahead of this summer's CONCACAF Gold Cup, a loan was a must, even with the failure of his midseason loan to Newcastle in 2007 still lingering a bit in the rearview mirror. With the circumstances much different this time around, the move to Twente came at an opportune time. It wasn't the only offer he received, either.

"There were some options on the table from different countries, arguably from more competitive leagues, depending on who you ask," Onyewu said without specifying any clubs. "I felt that given the fact that it's been over a season since I've had regular football, this would be the most realistic and best possibility, from a sporting aspect, to get back into the mix and get my feet back on the ground and doing what I love to do. Everything else will work itself out."

In his three appearances with his new club, Onyewu has played left back, something he said he had never done before as a professional. He said that he was initially formed as a right back in the first few years career, but with his top attributes not necessarily being finesse but more so size (6-foot-4, 200 pounds) and physicality, it's been clear for some time that he's built to be a prototypical center back.

Nevertheless, Twente has an immediate need at left back, and Onyewu is tackling his new challenge like he does opposing forwards -- with an all-in attitude and a determination to come out on top. Whether he will earn time in central defense is unknown.

"I'm at the disposition of the coach," Onyewu said. "Everyone is familiar with the fact that I'm more comfortable in central defense. and that's primarily the position I've been playing for the past some-odd years. Me being able to jump into any role across the back line can only help me in terms of my versatility and my skills on the field. I'm using this as a learning experience and trying to make the best of it."

It certainly plays into Onyewu's favor that his coach at Twente is Michel Preud'homme, under whom he flourished at Belgian side Standard Liege.

"It puts you at ease to the point where your coach knows your strengths and knows what you're capable of," Onyewu said. "You don't have to have that sort of nervousness or edginess to the whole unknown. The fact I've known Michel so long kind of puts me at ease. I also know that nothing is given for free, and I have to fight for my position on this team."

In Onyewu's first appearance with the club, during a friendly, he scored a goal by heading home a corner kick. He proceeded to play the full 90 minutes in his first two league matches, putting to rest any doubts about his fitness level.

"The question of my fitness obviously would pop up to any coach that saw my situation within the past 12 months, but I assured (Preud'homme), and he saw through the trainings that I was match-fit," Onyewu said. "Regardless of my playing status, I've been keeping up with my physical condition off the field, so that was never an issue."

When Onyewu had to be subbed off after 26 minutes in Twente's Dutch Cup match against PSV Eindhoven last week, it raised some eyebrows given his recent injury history. He said that he tweaked a muscle in his ribs when making a run to win the ball from a winger in the opening minutes and tried to play through the injury but ultimately thought against risking further damage. He missed the team's league match over the weekend while getting the necessary rest and rehabilitation and shouldn't be required to miss much more time.

As for the status of Onyewu's knee, which has been under high levels of scrutiny ever since he was unceremoniously pulled from the United States' group match against Slovenia during the World Cup and never seen again on the pitch in South Africa, he says it's at 100 percent.

"The knee feels fine," Onyewu said. "I showed that in the last national team friendlies (this past October) that I played in that there were no issues with my knee. Thus far I haven't had any setbacks. It's not even a thought right now when I play.

"It's important that I get it out of people's heads that it was an issue. Obviously it was a serious injury. A lot of people feel that, for whatever reason, once a player has a serious injury he won't be the same or it's always going to linger. In some cases that does happen, but when the surgeon is as good as mine was, it's not going to be a problem down the line, and that's what I'm experiencing right now."

With a new lease on club soccer life, Onyewu might be just where he needs to be in order to get back on track and resume his spot as the dominant anchor of United States coach Bob Bradley's defense.

In his half a season or so remaining at Twente, he'll play in meaningful matches for a team competing for its second consecutive Dutch Eredivisie title while also vying for European silverware in the UEFA Europa League.

"I'm extremely hungry to show everybody that my form is coming back to where it was before my injury, and that regardless of the setbacks that I've faced in the past, it's not going to hold me down," Onyewu said. "I'm definitely going to be the player and more that I once was.

"I'm definitely happy, feeling confident and the sky's the limit."

The prevailing hope for Onyewu, his fans, teammates and coaches on the club and international levels is that his bold statements prove to be factually correct, as well.

Here's how Onyewu and the other Americans playing abroad -- including those shipped to new teams at the end of the transfer window -- fared this past week (statistics encompass all competitions):

Premier League

Clint Dempsey, M/F, Fulham -- Started, played 90 minutes in Fulham's 1-0 loss to Liverpool on Wednesday. Dempsey also started, played 90 minutes and drew a penalty in Fulham's 4-0 victory over Tottenham in the fourth round of the FA Cup on Sunday. SEASON: 28 games, 25 starts, 9 goals

Brad Friedel, GK, Aston Villa -- Started, played 90 minutes and made five saves in Villa's 2-1 victory over Wigan Athletic on Tuesday. Friedel also started, played 90 minutes and made three saves in Villa's 3-1 victory over Blackburn in the fourth round of the FA Cup on Saturday. SEASON: 27 games, 27 starts, 87 saves, 43 goals allowed, 5 clean sheets

Marcus Hahnemann, GK, Wolverhampton -- Started, played 90 minutes and made nine saves in Wolves' 1-0 loss to Stoke City in the fourth round of the FA Cup on Sunday. SEASON: 17 games, 17 starts, 59 saves, 28 goals allowed, 1 clean sheet

Stuart Holden, M, Bolton -- In the 18, came on as a 74th-minute substitute and picked up a yellow card in Bolton's 0-0 draw with Wigan Athletic in the fourth round of the FA Cup on Saturday. The two teams will replay this round at a later date. SEASON: 21 games, 19 starts, 2 goals

Tim Howard, GK, Everton -- Started, played 90 minutes and made four saves in Everton's 1-1 draw with Chelsea in the fourth round of the FA Cup on Saturday. The two teams will replay this round at a later date. SEASON: 25 games, 25 starts, 69 saves, 31 goals allowed, 5 clean sheets

Eddie Johnson, F, Fulham -- Not in the 18 for Fulham's 1-0 loss to Liverpool on Wednesday or for Fulham's 4-0 victory over Tottenham in the fourth round of the FA Cup on Sunday. Johnson was loaned to League Championship side Preston North End for the remainder of the season just ahead of Monday's transfer deadline. SEASON: 12 games, 1 start

Jermaine Jones, M, Blackburn -- In the 18, did not play in Blackburn's 3-1 loss to Aston Villa in the fourth round of the FA Cup on Saturday. SEASON: 17 games, 16 starts, 1 goal

Eric Lichaj, D, Aston Villa -- Not in the 18 for Villa's 2-1 victory over Wigan Athletic on Tuesday or for Villa's 3-1 victory over Blackburn in the fourth round of the FA Cup on Saturday. SEASON: 8 games, 6 starts

Jonathan Spector, M/D, West Ham -- Started, played 105 minutes in West Ham's 3-1 loss to Birmingham in the second leg of their League Cup semifinal tie on Wednesday. The two sides were level on aggregate at 3-3 before Craig Gardner's extra-time goal put Birmingham through to the final. Spector was not in the 18 for West Ham's 3-2 victory over Nottingham Forest in the fourth round of the FA Cup on Sunday. SEASON: 12 games, 11 starts, 4 goals

Championship

Conor Doyle, F, Derby County -- Derby County did not have a game this past week and faces Ipswich Town on Tuesday. SEASON: 11 games, 4 starts

Robbie Findley, F, Nottingham Forest -- Not in the 18 for Nottingham Forest's 1-0 victory over Bristol City on Tuesday or for Nottingham Forest's 3-2 loss to West Ham in the fourth round of the FA Cup on Sunday. SEASON: 0 games

Mike Grella, F, Leeds United -- Leeds did not have a game this past week and faces Hull City on Tuesday. SEASON: 12 games, 7 starts, 3 goals

Brad Guzan, GK, Hull City -- Started, played 90 minutes, made five saves and earned the clean sheet in Hull City's 0-0 draw with Queen's Park Rangers on Saturday. SEASON: 8 games, 8 starts, 36 saves, 9 goals allowed, 2 clean sheets

Zak Whitbread, D, Norwich City -- Started, played 90 minutes in Norwich City's 0-0 draw with Crystal Palace on Saturday. SEASON: 6 games, 5 starts

League One

Anton Peterlin, M, Plymouth Argyle -- In the 18, did not play in Plymouth Argyle's 2-1 loss to AFC Bournemouth on Saturday. SEASON: 5 games, 4 starts

Frank Simek, D, Carlisle United -- Started, played 90 minutes in Carlisle's 2-2 draw with Oldham Athletic on Saturday. SEASON: 30 games, 30 starts

League Two

Jon-Paul Pittman, F, Wycombe Wanderers -- Wycombe didn't have a game this past week and faces Cheltenham Town on Tuesday. SEASON: 6 games, 3 starts, 2 goals

La Liga

Jozy Altidore, F, Villarreal -- Not in the 18 for Villarreal's 1-0 victory over Espanyol on Sunday. At Monday's transfer deadline, Altidore was loaned to Turkish champions Bursaspor for the remainder of the season. SEASON: 13 games, 7 starts, 2 goals

Bundesliga

Damascus Beasley, M, Hanover 96 -- Not in the 18 for Hannover's 2-0 loss to Bayer Leverkusen on Friday. SEASON: 4 games

Michael Bradley, M, Borussia Monchengladbach -- Not in the 18 for Monchengladbach's 1-0 victory over Eintracht Frankfurt on Sunday. Bradley was loaned to Aston Villa for the remainder of the season on Monday. SEASON: 22 games, 20 starts, 4 goals

Steve Cherundolo, D, Hanover 96 -- Started, played 90 minutes in Hannover's 2-0 loss to Bayer Leverkusen on Friday. SEASON: 20 games, 20 starts

Ricardo Clark, M/D, Eintracht Frankfurt -- Not in the 18 for Frankfurt's 1-0 loss to Borussia Monchengladbach on Sunday. Clark broke his cheekbone in training on Friday and will be out for up to four weeks. SEASON: 7 games, 4 starts

Daniel Williams, D, SC Freiburg -- Not in the 18 for Freiburg's 1-0 victory over VfB Stuttgart on Sunday. SEASON: 5 games, 2 starts

2. Bundesliga

Edson Buddle, F, FC Ingolstadt 04 -- In the 18, came on as a 61st-minute substitute and picked up a yellow card in Ingolstadt's 1-1 draw with RW Oberhausen on Friday. SEASON: 2 games, 1 start, 1 goal

Luis Robles, GK, Karlsruhe SC -- Started, played 90 minutes, made five saves and earned the clean sheet in Karlsruhe's 1-0 victory over Energie Cottbus on Sunday. SEASON: 14 games, 14 starts, 55 saves, 23 goals allowed, 4 clean sheets

Bobby Wood, F, TSV 1860 Munich -- In the 18, came on as an 82nd-minute substitute in Munich's 1-1 draw with MSV Duisburg on Saturday. SEASON: 1 game

Dave Yelldell, GK, MSV Duisburg -- Started, played 90 minutes, made four saves and earned the clean sheet in Duisburg's 2-0 victory over Kaiserslautern in the quarterfinals of the DFB Pokal (German Cup) on Wednesday. Yelldell also started, played 90 minutes and made two saves in Duisburg's 1-1 draw with 1860 Munich on Saturday. SEASON: 24 games, 24 starts, 62 saves, 20 goals allowed, 9 clean sheets

3. Liga

Matt Taylor, F, Rot Weiss Ahlen -- Started, played 90 minutes and scored a 45th-minute goal in Rot Weiss Ahlen's 3-1 loss to Werder Bremen II on Tuesday. Taylor also started, played 90 minutes and scored a 75th-minute goal in Rot Weiss Ahlen's 1-1 draw with Unterhaching on Saturday. Taylor has now scored in seven consecutive matches. SEASON: 14 games, 14 starts, 10 goals

Ligue 1

Carlos Bocanegra, D, St. Etienne -- Started, played 90 minutes and picked up a yellow card in St. Etienne's 2-1 victory over Toulouse on Saturday. SEASON: 19 games, 19 starts, 1 goal

Charlie Davies, F, FC Sochaux -- Not in the 18 for Sochaux's 5-1 victory over Stade Rennes on Saturday. SEASON: 0 games

Eredivisie

Oguchi Onyewu, D, FC Twente Enschede -- Started, played 26 minutes in Twente's 1-1 (7-6 in penalties) victory over PSV Eindhoven in the quarterfinals of the KNVB Beker (Dutch Cup) on Wednesday. Onyewu tweaked a muscle in his ribs early in the match and had to be subbed off, and he missed Twente's 2-1 victory over Feyenoord Rotterdam in league play on Sunday. SEASON: 3 games, 3 starts

Eerste Klasse

Sacha Kljestan, M, RSC Anderlecht -- In the 18, did not play in Anderlecht's 0-0 draw with KV Mechelen on Sunday. SEASON: 21 games, 18 starts, 3 goals

Liga de Honra

Bryan Arguez, M, G.D. Estoril Praia -- Not in the 18 for Estoril's 2-1 victory over Sporting Lisbon in the League Cup on Saturday. Estoril finished second in its group in the second group stage of the tournament and was eliminated from contention, as only group winners advance. SEASON: 1 game, 1 start

Greg Garza, D, G.D. Estoril Praia -- Not in the 18 for Estoril's 2-1 victory over Sporting Lisbon in the League Cup on Saturday. SEASON: 1 game

Tony Taylor, F, G.D. Estoril Praia -- In the 18, did not play in Estoril's 2-1 victory over Sporting Lisbon in the League Cup on Saturday. SEASON: 16 games, 3 starts, 4 goals

Premier League

Dominic Cervi, GK, Celtic FC -- Not in the 18 for Celtic's 4-1 victory over Aberdeen in the semifinals of the League Cup on Saturday. SEASON: 0 games

Maurice Edu, M, Rangers FC -- In the 18, came on as a 67th-minute substitute in Rangers' 2-0 victory over Hibernian on Wednesday. Edu started, played 90 minutes and scored a 20th-minute goal in Rangers' 2-1 victory over Motherwell in the semifinals of the League Cup on Sunday. Edu cut to his left foot and unleashed a 25-yard, straightaway blast that found the upper right-hand corner of the goal to open the scoring. Rangers will meet rival Celtic in the cup final next month. SEASON: 23 games, 17 starts, 4 goals

Primera Division

Daniel Antunez, M/D, Estudiantes Tecos -- In the 18, did not play in Tecos' 1-0 victory over Chivas de Guadalajara on Friday. SEASON: 1 game, 1 start

Jonathan Bornstein, M/D, Tigres UANL -- In the 18, did not play in Tigres' 1-0 loss to Toluca on Saturday. SEASON: 2 games, 2 starts

Edgar Castillo, D, Puebla -- In the 18, came on as a 72nd-minute substitute in Puebla's 2-0 loss to Atlante on Saturday. SEASON: 3 games, 2 starts

Herculez Gomez, F, Pachuca -- In the 18, came on as a halftime substitute in Pachuca's 4-0 loss to Cruz Azul on Saturday. SEASON: 4 games

Sonny Guadarrama, M, Atlante -- In the 18, came on as a 61st-minute substitute in Atlante's 2-0 victory over Puebla on Saturday. SEASON: 3 games

Sammy Ochoa, F, Estudiantes Tecos -- Not in the 18 for Tecos' 1-0 victory over Chivas de Guadalajara on Friday. SEASON: 0 games

Jose Francisco Torres, M, Pachuca -- In the 18, did not play in Pachuca's 4-0 loss to Cruz Azul on Saturday. SEASON: 1 game

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