Onyewu Not Talking

Friday, October 15, 2010 | View Comments
Aug. 06, 2010 - 06284017 date 05 08 2010 Copyright imago Buzzi Oguchi Onyewu PUBLICATIONxNOTxINxITA Football men 2011 ITA Series A try out Single Vdig xkg 2010 horizontal premiumd.

Snub a reporter, risk a ripping. Oguchi Onyewu learned that lesson this week after his first match as captain for the USMNT in Philadelphia. After a refusing to speak with the media during training camp for the Americans' two October friendlies, Onyewu carried over the policy to the aftermath of the Colombia game in Philadelphia. Simon Borg relates Onyewu walking through the mixed zone and wagging a finger in the direction of the assembled reporters.

The problem is that the captain has an unwritten, but understood, obligation to speak to the media after the game. Because Gooch walked on by without saying saying a word, Borg took his shot, claiming the big central defender is not ready to be captain.

Not that it really matters much. Onyewu is well down the line of usual captain candidates, and it's difficult to seem him jumping those ahead of him on the list. But Onyewu's vow of silence, particularly after wearing the armband when he should have broken it, relates directly to the state of his career. Clearly Onyewu has no interest in answering more questions on his inability to find playing time at AC Milan, and may be harboring a grudge towards reporters who consistently bring up the issue.

If the frustration is boiling over to the point that Onyewu is shirking his duties when given the honor of the captaincy for the first time in his USA career, perhaps it's time to consider moving him to the back of the central defender line. Onyewu's play, affected by rust as it is, doesn't inspire much confidence; replacements like Goodson and Parkhurst may not have his pedigree, but they're capable players with better form and better attitudes. With Onyewu's baggage weighing him down, a change might be in order.

Noah Davis draws a similar conclusion. While Davis sees Onyewu's silent treatment as less egregious a transgression than Borg, he does believe it says something about the defender's state of game and mind at this moment. Refusing to speak only makes things worse, not better. Comparing Onyewu's attitude to that of Altidore, as Borg does, is unfair to the elder player, but does make Onyewu look worse nonetheless. With questions flying, leaving them unanswered or un-addressed makes Onyewu appear to be a player on the verge of disaster.

Is he? In National Team terms he may be if he can't find some way to play regularly, and nothing at AC Milan indicates it will happen there. That means Onyewu needs a move; whether that's a loan or a transfer in January, anything that involves stepping down into a team that has a legitimate need for a central defender would be an improvement. Onyewu's gestures toward Milan, include agreeing to play for free in the final year of his contract, give the impression he's desperate to make it work there. AC Milan is a massive club and playing there should be the highlight of Onyewu's career; it's not hard to understand why he would be hesitant to throw in the towel on the Rossoneri and actively look to move elsewhere. Nevertheless, if January comes and playing time has not, he shouldn't do anything but.

For Onyewu, the National Team might be an afterthought, or worse, a nuisance. He's a professional soccer player whose living is made with a club, not his country, and while he's unlikely to ever turn down Bradley's call, playing for the United States only brings back into focus his failures in Milan. Rather than respond to the scrutiny with a positive attitude while expressing belief that things will get better, he has chosen to ignore it completely. One must wonder how fragile his psyche really is, or if the road to recovery will be a long one.

Perhaps Onyewu is just now returning to full health after his knee injury a year ago. Maybe that's why Bob Bradley continues to trot him out, the better to help speed the process of regaining sharpness. It's possible Bradley gave him the armband as a show of faith in the absence of Bocanegra and Donovan, an attempt to buoy the defender's spirits. Maybe there's a master plan at work, and Bradley is intent on keeping Onyewu in the first team because of Onyewu's natural talent and need for an emotional boost.

Even if that's the case, not everyone is on board. With Onyewu's recent behavior now in evidence, the justification for his preferred place in the team is difficult to find.
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