Oguchi Onyewu: On Steve Cherundolo, Julian Green, the Ukraine loss and what's next
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 back with Sheffield Wednesday, and he had a midweek assist against QPR, the club that signed him, but did not play him, during the first half of the season.
After a stint with the U.S. for the March 5 2-0 loss to Ukraine, which he started, he is facing the final stretch as the weeks tick down to Jurgen Klinsmann's final roster selection. These are his unfiltered -- but edited for clarity -- thoughts, emotions and perspective as told to SI.com by him (the first in this series can be read here, and the second can be read here), concerning the retirement of U.S. teammate Steve Cherundolo, the Ukraine friendly, the addition of Julian Green and his play at Sheffield Wednesday:
When you think of Stevie, immediately the first thing you think of is that he's such a good guy. Even if you're talking about his career or anything you just know he was a good guy. He was lighthearted, always made jokes good for the team, good for the team atmosphere, chemistry. [His retirement] actually came as a shock. I was just flipping through the internet and saw that, and I was taken aback because I wasn't expecting to see that. He definitely had a great career. Captain of Hannover, playing in Europe his whole career, having 80-something caps for the national team is no small feat.
If anybody knows anything about setbacks and injuries it's myself, and I think obviously to come to a point where you have to say that it's not going to get better, it's probably your best option to step away, it must have definitely been serious. Steve, he's that kind of personality where I can see him stepping away and being fine because he gave everything he had for his sport. Just as much as he was a good football player he's a good guy and I'm sure he's going to flourish outside of football as well.
[Could he have seen this much change in the U.S. defense coming since the last World Cup?] Probably not, no. It's kind of crazy to be honest. That's football.
[As for the Ukraine friendly] Obviously the result was not what we expected or what we were hoping for. It was a strange kind of game, a strange atmosphere. Obviously you're not playing in Ukraine, you're not playing in America, you're playing in Cyprus. The stadium was almost empty, a few fans here and there. It was a strange national team game atmosphere, I don't think I've experienced one to memory like that where you could hear each other talk on the field. There was no cheering or chanting, which is no excuse for the result, but sometimes results don't go your way for whatever reason. I don't think the team as a whole played to their maximum abilities, and, as a result, we paid the price.
Without making excuses, the back four in that game had never played together. That was the first time I played with Geoff Cameron as my right back, it was the first time I played with John (Brooks) as my center back partner, so there was definitely instant adjustments to be made. That's the process, that's the name of the game. Maybe on another day the result would've been better, the performance would've been better as a whole, as a team, as a defense, as an individual.
Personally, I was disappointed. I never like to lose. I don't feel as though I had my best game on the day for whatever reason. You take what you can from a game and you try and build from it. You use your setbacks, you use your pain as a force to push you toward progress instead of pulling you toward your past again. I'm going to use that to propel me toward the end of the season and hopefully into May.
I don't think anybody in that game can take away too much positive from it as an individual performance and definitely not as a team performance. At the end of the day as the coaches look to see what everybody gets out of it. I'm sure he's looking at the bigger picture and not just that one game and focusing on that. From then on out it's in his hands.
But I'm not really trying to dwell on [the loss] too much, because it can't be changed. I was happy to get into the camp and get into the team in front of Jurgen and the coaches. That game is over, you can't change it. What I can change and condition is the rest of my season here with Sheffield. I'm putting in the minutes and providing the performances that I can. Contributing to victories, contributing to shutouts and finding my best form again.
To play against my former teammates and former coaching staff [at Queens Park Rangers] was definitely an opportunity to showcase again. I had some nerves going into the game. No matter how much you want to downplay it, essentially I had something to prove to myself to a team that I wasn't able to contribute to and didn't give me an opportunity on the field. Before warmups my coach Stuart Gray came up to me and told me that I have nothing to prove tonight and just to play like I've been playing all season.
That kind of calmed me down and made me look at the bigger picture in the sense that whatever happened in the past, I've been pushing forward and using the past to help me propel. Playing and beating them 3-0 and contributing to the second goal was just a great way to respond to such adversity that I had to endure early on.
You can take that into any aspect of life. You have nothing to prove to anybody but yourself, and once you conquer that internal criticism of yourself and that internal pressure, everything outside seems a lot more minimal. It was important for me to take that pressure off myself before the game started.
I've been flourishing here in Sheffield. A lot critics and people that said "I can't run anymore," "I can't play anymore," "You're finished," "Hang up his boots," "Move back home to America," I think I'm disproving a lot of people right now in terms of my performances, in terms of sticking it out over here and actually excelling at this club right now and helping us move up the table in the Championship.
That was my main goal -- to prove something to myself, but to turn the naysayers into believers. Like I tell everybody, I'll know when I'm done, and I'm not done yet. Just like Steve, he knew when he was done, he knew when it was time, and right now it's not my time. I still feel as though I have a lot to give. I'm giving it here in England, and hopefully [this summer] I can give it in Brazil.
[Regarding Julian Green] I've only seen him for a few days, but in terms of what I've heard and what I've seen so far, he's definitely a good lad, he's a good guy, good personality. Obviously if he's at Bayern, he's a worker. I feel as though he's going to be a different kind of attacking threat that the U.S. can utilize with his abilities and his mobility. I wish him the best of luck in the future with the national team and his club team as well. The U.S. just acquired another quality offensive threat.
[Would him -- not being a part of the qualifying process and being so new to the set-up -- hypothetically taking a World Cup roster place rub players the wrong way?] I think you saw that four years ago with Herculez Gomez how he got selected to the 2010 squad and he contributed and helped out the squad. He was in very strong form in Mexico scoring goals, and Bob Bradley selected him and brought him to South Africa. I'm sure there was a lot of players who were disappointed in themselves and disappointed in that selection who didn't get picked instead, but that's the facts of life and that's the nature of the sport.
What I can do is what I've been doing since January, and that's consistently putting in 90 minutes, consistently helping my team get results and consistently helping Sheffield Wednesday move up the table in the Championship. I'm just feeling good, I'm feeling young again. I love to be in this position that I'm in again where I'm opening a lot of eyes to what they haven't seen in the last eight months from me. Putting hope in peoples eyes again. I'm just happy to be in this position right now.