Oguchi Onyewu, the imposing center back who was once a U.S. national team lineup staple, has always enjoyed a special relationship with U.S. Soccer fans. At a time when the good, sweet, clean U.S. fan still felt a little vulnerable, a little self-conscious about it all, he was like a big brother who walked you to school – and you just knew that nobody would be messing with big bro on watch.
The snapshot moment of his career came back in Columbus in 2005, when Onyewu stared down Jared Borgetti, a physical and talented Mexican goal-scorer and, at the time, one of the chief obstacles standing between the United States and Germany 2006.
Since then, the man they call “Gooch” has been a career defined more by potential and promise than actual delivery. Some of that was about shooting beyond his actual reach in career moves. Some was about injury.
Either way, the bottom line doesn’t look great in 2014.
Onyewu is 31, which is hardly too old to be effective, so long as he picks the right league. On the other hand, he’s on the wrong side of the hill, on the downside of his career. And the real deal breaker here as Onyewu looks for his next address is this cold-water splash of reality: He has not been a season-long, first choice selection since his days with Standard Liege ended in 2009.
Yes, some of the press clippings say “Gooch” was a starter for Sporting Lisbon upon 2009 arrival in Portugal. But he started 17 games that year; Sporting played in 46 matches covering league play and Europa League action. So, that’s a shoulder shrug of a season.
After that, things didn’t go well at Malaga (while on loan) nor at Queens Park Rangers. He didn’t look good in his limited U.S. national team appearances.
As we’ve written a few times at ProSoccerTalk, Onyewu is about to be out of contract with QPR. Nicolas Mendola wrote about it today. He wondered if D.C. United might be the spot.
But United has just made big moves to upgrade the center back position, taking on Bobby Boswell from Houston and putting a lot of faith in emerging youngster Ethan White.
Besides that, is Onyewu likely to take a major salary reduction, which an MLS entrance would almost surely require? Because even the backups are paid well (relatively speaking) in Europe. Here, a team that pays more than $150,000 for a center back had better be getting a trusty starter. A center back in the neighborhood of $200,000and beyond had better be a trusty starter and a leader, and one who isn’t prone to injury.
Some MLS organization may well believe they have that Onyewu – but given the big center back’s career trajectory, it’s a risk.