Oguchi Onyewu: Playing with an expiring contract, pushing for pre-World Cup camp
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 with Sheffield Wednesday, nursing a minor rib muscle injury that is not expected to keep him out much longer.
He is facing the final stretch as the weeks tick down to Jurgen Klinsmann’s final roster selection. These are the latest in a series of 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, the second can be read here, and the third here), concerning his minor setback suffered on April 4, playing with a contract that expires at the end of the season and his hopes of being called in Klinsmann's pre-World Cup camp:
[Picking up this injury] It sucked. We're playing [recently promoted] Leicester, we were 1-1 going into halftime, you want to get a good result, especially from the league leader, you go there and you go into halftime doing well and the game is opening up. A small little injury like this, you never want to submit to any kind of injury. It's just a nagging, annoying thing. Not serious, but enough to keep you out of training for a week. Basically it's letting the pain subside and rest. At this point it's all about my pain threshold. It's not an injury that I could seriously hurt myself further than I have already done.
[As for Klinsmann calling in more than just 23 to his pre-World Cup camp] It's a good opportunity for people. The World Cup is not a season-long event, obviously, it's a tournament format, so you want guys who are hot at the moment, that can carry you and help you get good results. Perhaps a player who wasn't doing too well a month ago might be shining in June. You have to take into consideration injuries as well. It'd be smart to hold off until you see who is completely fit and who can compete for you throughout the tournament, and so on and so forth.
All in all, it's a good opportunity, one, for the coaches to assess more players than probably people were expecting, and, two, it's a good opportunity for the players who might not have had the opportunity to showcase what they can do and give reason to why they should be in Brazil.
Me, we have our last game the 3rd of May. It's a final three-and-a-half-week push. I can only control what I can control. Up until this point I've been consistently starting, playing 90 minutes every game up until this last game that I had to come out. Once I'm fit and ready to play, that's what I intend to do until the end of the season and hopefully lead that into participating in that camp in May. This time it's just a waiting game and being ready to be called upon when you're needed.
My contract here is until the end of the season. Up until today, I have kept my options open, and obviously I will assess those later on, perhaps closer to the end of the season or right after the season is over. I'm not necessarily waiting for the World Cup to make a decision. I think a lot of players do that or say they want to see what happens in the World Cup before they make a move or sign, and I think for some that's a good idea, for others it's kind of playing roulette.
To bank on how you perform individually in a team effort is not the most assured strategy. If your team does well, great, you'll probably shine a little bit better; if your team doesn't do so well, it's really hard to show top qualities if as a unit you guys aren't performing. For me I'm just looking for the next chapter, and I think the performances I've put in thus far for this second half of the season have put me in a good position to be able to kind of rest assured that things will fall into place for next season.
Sheffield has been great for me. The coach has resurrected me and my career and put trust in the player that perhaps a lot of people didn't prior to me playing here, and for that I'm grateful. I've never closed the door on the prospect of staying here, although I've never closed the door on the prospect of leaving either.
I think it all depends in terms of everything that comes together and the situation that comes together and ultimately what's best for both parties. I'm always trying to find the best situation for myself and the best situation for progression and that's pretty much what I'm looking for at the end of the season.
At the beginning of next season I'll be 32, and there's going to be a lot of factors involved in the decision. I'm not scared about it, I'm quite relaxed about it at this point, hoping that football speaks for itself and everything else will happen the way it's supposed to.
[In terms of weighing money as a determining factor] Let's call a spade a spade. We're in the profession of professional sports, and obviously money is a factor any way you put it. This is your livelihood, this is your job, this is our 9-to-5, so obviously salary is going to play a part. People that say, "Oh, these people are money hungry," we have a right to be, because this is our livelihood.
Anybody in any kind of discipline or domain that they're in is going to look for the most profitable situation for themselves. Then once they see that profitable situation they weigh into consideration a lot of other factors, whether it be location, whether it be if their family is going to be comfortable with the move, whether it be are you comfortable with moving. In our situation, does the coach play the style that you want, or do you see yourself fitting into that team. There's a lot of different factors that go into consideration. But I'd be a liar to say that my salary wouldn't be one of those factors.
It all depends. I'm not 20-21 anymore, and certain things have to be aligned in order for the situation to be correct. Obviously money, playing situation. I would assume any player doesn't want to step into the situation where they don't feel as though they have an opportunity.
For example, QPR felt as thought I was entering a situation where I would be given an opportunity, which I wasn't, and I didn't find out until later, and then I adjusted my situation by coming here to Sheffield, where I was given an opportunity. It's all about adapting and being able to sort of be a chameleon in your environment and be comfortable outside of the box.
In the big scheme of things it probably is [a lot to weigh on your mind while balancing World Cup aspirations] but as you get older you start to worry a little less about the things you used to worry about a lot when you were younger. Honestly, I've been through so much in the last year and a half that at this moment there's not much that can rattle me. I'm taking it in stride and I know God has a plan for me and I'm just patiently awaiting it.