Oguchi Onyewu: On the call-up process, return to USMNT, opportunity against Ukraine
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 combated 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 currently in U.S. camp ahead of Wednesday's friendly against Ukraine -- his first call-up since this past summer's CONCACAF Gold Cup. These are his thoughts, emotions and perspective as told to SI.com by him — the first in this series can be read here — as the weeks tick down to Jurgen Klinsmann’s final roster selection.
Weeks before the actual camp or trip you are pre-selected, which is obviously confidential. So from that preselection obviously [Klinsmann] narrows it down to the players that go into camp...and it's all confidential until it's released publicly. They inform the clubs of preselection and selection and ask for their confidentiality as well before it's released to the public. Based on your form and how you're playing, and if you're playing injured and all that stuff on your club team, that's how it's gone as long as I've known the national team program.
For me, this actual camp has been a target just because of how the season has gone for me so far. I figured if everything works out the way I hope it will, I'd be getting games in, pending injury as well, that I'd be in good form and hopefully be able to be called in to this camp. Fortunate enough for me that's how it happened. The slight injury that I had a few weeks prior was not able to prevent me from coming in and being physically fit to be a part of the camp.
[On playing with extra caution in the lead-in to a call-up coming off an injury] I think probably that would be a normal person's first reaction, in terms of being cautious or everything, but I've learned in my career and from other people's experiences the more you think about it the higher chances are that you are actually going to get injured. So it's probably best to just play like you've been playing and I think the majority of the time the probability of you getting injured is a lot less than you not getting injured.
I try not to think about it as much as possible. Injuries are a part of the game, as we all know. The unfortunate news of Stuart Holden, and I'm hoping that his isn't too serious as well. As a professional athlete if you dwell on it to too much you won't be able to perform as you wish.
I just spoke with him, and there's really no words. We're all behind him 110 percent and hoping for the best, but he's been through it so many times and my heart goes out to him that he has to continue going through it. It's an unfortunate part of the game and a part I'd gladly eradicate, but unfortunately it's always going to be there.
Injury, I wouldn't say has plagued my whole career, but definitely in the last four years it's been a hovering cloud over it. At this moment I'm thankful to have hopefully gotten over that hump of injuries and bad situations playing-wise and everything, and I'm finding my best football again and feeling confident and feeling good about being on the field and contributing to every team that I'm a part of.
[Entering camp in Frankfurt, which commenced Sunday] Obviously everybody's on different schedules, some players played Friday, some Saturday, some yesterday so I think players are coming in at different points. The mood is always good and I think that's one of our strengths on the national team is there chemistry and the atmosphere whenever you're in camp. We're all light-hearted guys, we get along, we joke, and although we know it's time to be professional, it's also a time to catch up with a bunch of friends that you haven't seen in a long time. It's always a good feeling to be here.
I definitely feel as though experience in any situation at any level is definitely an ace in your hand. You only get experience with time. I've been in the national team for quite some time, and I feel like my experience with the team and in my career can definitely contribute on this team as well as any other team that I'm playing on. Hopefully as well as Sheffield Wednesday, my experience and abilities has been helping our team with very good results in the last two months. I definitely think that is a positive attribute that I possess and hopefully I can translate onto the field when I play with the team.
I'm hoping that [Klinsmann] does look to me as a leader in the camp. Being one of the few people that have been in the program for so long, myself with Tim Howard and Clint Dempsey, we've gone through two World Cup cycles and you know the work that's involved, you know the work that's needed to get the results you want to achieve. I definitely feel that he knows my value in terms of my experience and what I can contribute. Right now it's up to me to display that and repay that confidence that he has in me.
It's always good to be back with the national team. Obviously I would've liked it to be a lot sooner than it is now. It's always good to make an entrance. I'm just here and every chance I get I try to make the most of it and try to in a sense give reason to having a presence on the team and having a presence on the field, and I think everybody should -- especially I do -- try to make a point that when I'm not here, I can contribute something, something is missing or something that I can give back to the team that somebody else probably couldn't, and that's what I try to emulate every time I'm on the field for 90 minutes. I possess something special, just as everybody else possesses something special otherwise they wouldn't be different players with different characteristics. I have my own set of abilities and strengths and I hope that I can use those to help the team and something that the team will need and desires.
[In terms of the situation in Ukraine] I don't think that changes anything for us per se but perhaps the players from Ukraine have a little extra on their mind as normal, which could be understood. For us we're preparing for the game as normal. We're fully aware of the situation in their country and obviously it's unfortunate. We're coming out to perform, we're coming out to win the game and put on a good performance and make the most out of this match.
For me I think that every impression is your last first impression, if that makes sense. This is not my first impression...but I feel as though every opportunity I get I have to leave an impression, I have to leave something positive for them to think about, for them to actually consider me in the long-term plans, and that's how I go into every chance. That's how I went into the World Cup four years ago, that's how I went into the Gold Cup eight months ago, that's how I'm going to go into the game on Wednesday, trying to leave it all on the field and leave no doubt in coach's mind about the player that I am and person that I am that can contribute to their squad. I think everybody in the camp knows what's personally at stake for themselves. I think everybody at camp is going to try and put themselves in the best possible position after this camp knowing that it's the last FIFA date and everybody knows the importance of the game ahead of us. We're all preparing in this manner, not just for the game but after the game for the next two months as well. This is a big first step for a lot of people, not the last step, and after this it's continuing your performance, continuing your form at club level until the end of the season.