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“Resurrected” Oguchi Onyewu ready for final push to World Cup 2014

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Oguchi Onyewu’s road to redemption has been a long, eventful and frustrating one. But the former U.S. men’s national team stalwart is close to fulfilling it.

With 77 days remaining until the FIFA World Cup in Brazil, Onyewu’s plying his trade in the second-tier of English soccer and has his sights locked on the prize: get into Jurgen Klinsmann’s U.S. squad.

Currently leading Sheffield Wednesday’s charge up the Championship table from central defense, Onyewu, 31, is enjoying life in the England’s Steel City. He returned to England (following a loan move to Newcastle back in 2007) to kick start his career after stints with European giants such as AC Milan, Sporting Lisbon and Malaga have all been hampered by injury. Last October, Onyewu initially landed at Queens Park Rangers on a short-term deal, after Klinsmann had recommended his services to Harry Redknapp. But for all the talk QPR gave about giving Onyewu a chance, that never materialized as he stepped into a winning team that Redknapp didn’t want to tweak.

So, with less than six months to go until the World Cup, Onyewu knew he had to play regularly. That’s when English Championship side Wednesday stepped in.

“Going into the winter market I knew I had to find a situation where I had at least an opportunity to showcase what I could do… If I flopped and fell flat on my face, so be it. But I needed that opportunity,” Onyewu said, in an exclusive interview. “There were some options on the table, but Stuart Gray [Sheffield Wednesday’s head coach] contacted me and expressed his interest in wanting to help out my situation, and wanted me to help out with their situation. I spoke with U.S. international Stuart Holden about the club, who was on loan to Wednesday last year, and the move ticked every box I think needed to be ticked.”

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source: Getty Images
Onyewu in action at the 2013 Gold Cup for the U.S. as his towering presence in central defense could be called upon once again this summer.

Since he has joined Wednesday, the Owls have only conceded eight goals in the 12 games Gooch has appeared in, and the sleeping giant of English soccer has risen from relegation fodder to midtable security. There’s even talk of a late playoff push towards the Premier League from Gooch, but he’s just happy to be playing regularly and regaining his form.

“It is one thing to be playing regularly, that’s half the battle,” Onyewu said. “I think after that, you have to have good form. If you speak to anyone who has watched me play at Wednesday, I have been in very strong form and defensively we have been good. That can only help me in my efforts to make the final World Cup squad. It is Jurgen’s decision, but I’m sure he is keeping tabs on all of us.”

Speaking of Klinsmann, Onyewu revealed he’s a huge fan of the Germans tactical nous and feels close enough to the USMNT head coach to call him whenever he wants to talk. That fondness is obviously reciprocated, as Klinsmann made Onyewu the USA’s captain in a Gold Cup match against Cuba in 2013. And, of course, that close bond may enhance Onyewu’s chances of playing in his third-straight World Cup for the U.S., as experiences in 2006 and 2010 surely boost his chances.

After struggling through injury hit spells, being with clubs in financial turmoil and everything in between, Onyewu has been preparing for these next few months for a long time.

How huge would it be for him to make the USA’s final 23-man roster?

“It would be massive,” Onyewu said. “I set that as my goal, a year ago, to make this World Cup team. I’ve had to fight through a lot of injuries, fight through a lot of adversary playing wise and a lot of different pain. The character of a person or a player shows strongly when you can push through pain and into progress and not let your pain pull you back. I’ve accepted negative situations, but the person I am means I’m moving forward. I am going to do whatever I can to get to where I need to go.”

Gooch’s most recent appearance for the U.S. national team came in the 2-0 defeat to Ukraine on March 5, which was played in Cyprus after the political unrest forced the match to be switched. That peculiar situation aside, Onyewu showed up reasonably well in a makeshift backline which had been flung together by Klinsmann. Factor in that Ukraine is probably the top nation who didn’t make it to the World Cup, and Onyewu fared pretty well during his comeback game for the national team.

“It was a disappointing result,” Onyewu said. “A lot of players were playing with each other for the first time, and it was all a learning experience. The reality of the situation is that we don’t have a lot of time to learn. So you hope to learn quick from the mistakes and be able to rectify them.”

Asked whether or not he’d spoken with Klinsmann about his possible selection for the World Cup, and about what he needs to do to make it, Onyewu had the following to say.

source: AP
Is Oguchi Onyewu a must for the USA’s 2014 World Cup squad?

“There was no specific talk talk. I know what needs to be done, every player knows what needs to be done,” Onyewu said. “As a human being, you can only control factors that are within your realm of control. Jurgen controls the roster for the World Cup, what can I control? I can control my performance, my 90 minutes week in, week out at Sheffield. After that, there’s nothing for me to stress about. I am going to focus on finishing the season strong, maintaining the form I have and improving on it.”

The former Milan, Malaga, Metz, Standard Liege and Sporting defender knows his veteran status is key to the U.S., and that his 68 caps-worth of experience can be passed onto younger defenders such as Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler, who have made the central defensive positions their own in recent months. With other central defenders Clarence Goodson, John Brooks, Tim Ream and Michael Orozco Fiscal all fighting for spots, Gooch’s ‘been there, done that, got the t-shirt’ past may hold the key.

“That veteran role is one I welcome and embrace,” Onyewu said. “If I can’t do that, then what player can do that? If a player that has two World Cups under his belt and has played in Europe his whole career can’t take on the leadership role, then I’m in the wrong profession. When I was a youngster at the World Cup, it definitely helped to be alongside a veteran like Eddie Pope who was a veteran and could direct me. Experience is invaluable. Hopefully that will work in my favor in my push to make the World Cup.”

Back to club soccer, and Onyewu confirmed his current deal with Wednesday runs out at the end of the 2013-14 season. Speaking of options beyond this campaign, the towering defender didn’t rule out a move to Major League Soccer in the future.

“I’ve never cancelled MLS out,” Onyewu said. “If it was an option, it would be just as much of an option as anywhere else in Europe, granted that they show me the proper interest and approach me in the manner that they want me to come back. At this point, that hasn’t been the case. I’m sure if that ever did happen, I’d review the situation thoroughly and take it seriously.”

With Onyewu’s career entering a pivotal stretch — the last few years of his playing days are in-sight and one final sojourn for the U.S. national team at a World Cup awaits — who have been some of the biggest influences on his career?

source: Getty Images
Onyewu’s glittering career is far from over, but one more World Cup appearance would put him in legendary company

“The first one is Francis De Taddeo, he was the French scout and the youth team coach at Metz in France. He was the one that scouted me and convinced the club that I had talent. He was a big springboard to my career,” Onyewu said. “Then there is Ariel Jacobs, the current coach of Valenciennes in France, he was the coach who gave me the first chance as a starter in Belgium. That was big. He had blind faith in me. Plus the entire club at Standard Liege were incredibly supportive and believed in the player that I could be when I was in Belgium.”

However, with Onyewu’s resurrection clear for everyone to see, the gentle giant reserved special praise for the man who has been instrumental at giving him a shot of making his third World Cup and donning the Stars and Stripes on the biggest stage of all, one more time.

“Stuart Gray has pretty much resurrected me, he took a chance on me,” Onyewu said, before pausing. “I hadn’t played in six months and he was confident in what I could do. He definitely resurrected the player that I am now.”

Premier League roundup: Foxes, Spurs pace the PL, New club in drop zone

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 06:  Riyad Mahrez (R) and Kasper Schmeichel (L) of Leicester City celebrate their team's win in the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester City and Leicester City at the Etihad Stadium on February 6, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images
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Say it again, folks: Leicester City isn’t going away.

The Foxes went into the Etihad Stadium and battered Manchester City on Saturday, and now lead the table by five points. Leicester is ahead of fifth place Manchester United by 13 after a 3-1 win over City.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

We also have a new second-placed team, and a new side in the drop zone as well. Let’s run through the eight games we caught Saturday from the United Kingdom.

Manchester City 1-3 Leicester CityRECAP

Robert Hugh scored two goals and Riyad Mahrez had one sandwiched in between as the Foxes continued their surprising run at the top of the league with a comprehensive win over Man City. Sergio Aguero pulled one back late because, well, he’s Sergio Aguero. City blew a big chance to state their title claim.

Stoke City 0-3 Everton – RECAP

Mark Hughes has watched his Potters give up three goals for the third-straight match, and the Potters fell to 1W-1D-3L during the most recent injury absence for Geoff Cameron. Meanwhile, the Toffees got goals from three different players in the first half in moving up the table.

Tottenham Hotspur 1-0 Watford – RECAP

Spurs kept knocking, and finally broke through when Dele Alli‘s cross found ex-Burnley back Kieran Trippier. It was a dominant win for the new second-place Spurs, while Watford is 10th.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings

during the Barclays Premier League match between Aston Villa and Norwich City at Villa Park on February 6, 2016 in Birmingham, England.
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Aston Villa 2-0 Norwich City – RECAP

The visitors left Villa Park in the drop zone after falling to goals from veterans Gabriel Agbonlahor and Joleon Lescott. Norwich trails Newcastle by a single point.

Swansea City 1-1 Crystal Palace – RECAP

Gylfi Sigurdsson and Wayne Hennessey were the stars here, though the first bested the latter on an early free kick to make it 1-0. Scott Dann tied it up, and Hennessey made several saves to make sure Palace picked up a point for the first time in six PL matches.

Southampton 1-0 West Ham United – RECAP

Maya Yoshida put Saints up early, and Southampton was able to hold off the Irons despite going down to 10 men thanks to Victor Wanyama‘s sliding takedown of Dimitri Payet in the 53rd minute. Southampton has pulled to within a pair of points of sixth-place West Ham.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

during the Barclays Premier League match between Newcastle United and West Bromwich Albion at St James' Park on February 6, 2016 in Newcastle upon Tyne, England.
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Newcastle United 1-0 West Bromwich Albion – RECAP

Nothing’s easy for the Magpies, who dominated possession and shot attempts but only beat the Baggies once. The goal belonged to Aleksandar Mitrovic off another slick feed from reenergized Jonjo Shelvey, and the Magpies are one point clear of the drop zone.

Liverpool 2-2 Sunderland – RECAP

Playing without a sick Jurgen Klopp didn’t seem like a problem when Roberto Firmino scored a goal and set up Adam Lallana for another. Sam Allardyce‘s Black Cats provided a shock late, though, as Adam Johnson and Jermain Defoe picked up goals to keep Sunderland within four points of safety.

Standings

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
Leicester City 25 15 8 2 47 27 20 7-4-1 8-4-1 53
Tottenham Hotspur 25 13 9 3 45 19 26 7-4-2 6-5-1 48
Manchester City 25 14 5 6 47 26 21 9-1-3 5-4-3 47
Arsenal 24 13 6 5 37 22 15 7-3-2 6-3-3 45
Manchester United 24 11 7 6 31 21 10 6-4-2 5-3-4 40
West Ham United 25 10 9 6 38 29 9 5-5-2 5-4-4 39
Southampton 25 10 7 8 33 24 9 7-2-4 3-5-4 37
Everton 25 8 11 6 46 34 12 4-4-5 4-7-1 35
Liverpool 25 9 8 8 32 36 -4 4-5-3 5-3-5 35
Watford 25 9 6 10 27 27 0 5-3-5 4-3-5 33
Stoke City 25 9 6 10 24 31 -7 5-2-5 4-4-5 33
Crystal Palace 25 9 5 11 26 30 -4 4-2-7 5-3-4 32
Chelsea 24 7 8 9 32 34 -2 4-4-4 3-4-5 29
West Bromwich Albion 25 7 8 10 23 32 -9 4-4-5 3-4-5 29
Bournemouth 24 7 7 10 29 39 -10 3-4-4 4-3-6 28
Swansea City 25 6 9 10 24 33 -9 4-5-4 2-4-6 27
Newcastle United 25 6 6 13 26 44 -18 4-5-4 2-1-9 24

Norwich City 25 6 5 14 28 48 -20 4-3-5 2-2-9 23
Sunderland 25 5 5 15 30 49 -19 3-3-6 2-2-9 20
Aston Villa 25 3 7 15 20 40 -20 2-4-6 1-3-9 16

Official: Vardy rewarded for stellar season with new 3.5-year contract

Leicester’s Jamie Vardy celebrates after scoring against Manchester United, his eleventh consecutive goal in the Premier League, during the English Premier League soccer match between Leicester City and Manchester United at the King Power Stadium, Leicester, England, Saturday, Nov. 28, 2015. Vardy becomes the first man to score in 11 consecutive English Premier League soccer matches after finding the back of the net against Manchester United today.(AP Photo/Rui Vieira)
AP Photo/Rui Vieira
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Jamie Vardy has been handsomely rewarded for his stellar 2015-16 Premier League season, in the form of a brand new three-and-a-half-year contract that will keep the 29-year-old striker at Leicester City until the summer of 2019, the club announced on Saturday.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

So back off, Chelsea and Liverpool and Manchester City and anyone else who might have dreamt of poaching the 18-goal-scorer (so far) this summer; the Foxes’ star man is staying put.

According to numerous reports, Vardy’s new deal will pay him more than $115,000 per week, nearly doubling his previous $65,000-per-week contract, which he signed at the start of the 2014-15 season.

When you score goals like this, on top of having already broken the Premier League record by scoring a goal in 11 consecutive games, you’re bound be paid like one of the world’s top strikers, which is exactly what Vardy’s been this season.

From non-Football League side Fleetwood Town, to top of the Premier League and title favorites, to financially set for the rest of his life… all in less than 48 months’ time.

Southampton 1-0 West Ham: Yoshida, Saints overcome Wanyama red

during the Barclays Premier League match between Southampton and West Ham United at St Mary's Stadium on February 6, 2016 in Southampton, England.
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  • Yoshida strikes early
  • Wanyama sent off for third time this season
  • Another clean sheet for Forster

Maya Yoshida‘s early goal held up despite Saints playing with 10 men for nearly 40 minutes, and Southampton beat visiting West Ham United 1-0 at St. Mary’s on Saturday.

Victor Wanyama took a straight red card for cleaning out Dimitri Payet, but Saints closed down the Hammers to move with two points of the visitors’ sixth place in the Premier League table.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Adrian made sure Saints couldn’t take an early lead as he got vertical to stop Cedric‘s eighth minute header.

He couldn’t stop Yoshida, though, who ran to the door step to finish off a good bit of combination play and suspect West Ham spacing.

Fraser Forster kept up his hot play when he two-handed Winston Reid‘s header of a Payet free kick. A corner kick followed, but merely produced a Saints counter.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

Mark Noble slipped Enner Valencia through early in the second half, but a low shot spun right to Forster.

Then Wanyama lost his head, and picked up a straight red card for a sliding through Payet. It was the second-straight fixture between the sides that saw referee Mark Clattenburg send Wanyama off.

Reid and Collins were confused on a Forster goal kick, allowing Shane Long to put a shot over the goal.

An absolutely gorgeous dribble from Oriel Romeu freed up Charlie Austin for a chance to salt it away in the 88th minute, but Austin’s blast flew past the goal.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Ranieri refuses to believe Leicester is title favorites, but they are

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The entire globe is talking about Leicester City being the favorites to win the Premier League.

Their manager Claudio Ranieri is having none of it.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned ]

Following Leicester’s stunning 3-1 win at fellow title-contenders Manchester City on Saturday the Foxes are five points clear of second-place Tottenham Hotspur.

Ranieri, 64, is refusing to accept his team are the title favorites — bookmakers have slashed their odds on winning the title and now make them the favorites at 13/8 — despite having a sizable lead with 13 games to go.

“I don’t believe them,” Ranieri said. “They said I was first to be sacked! But I hope they are right.”

Up next for Leicester is the small matter of a trip to Arsenal next Sunday (Watch live, 7 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra), who will be five points behind the Foxes if they beat Bournemouth on Sunday.

Ranieri spoke to Leicester’s website about his side keeping their focus and keeping their dream alive.

“We know it’s a crazy league. We have to try in this crazy league but there are some big teams who have to win. We enjoy of course and we want to fight, but without pressure. For us it’s important to play and continue in this way because it’s a strange league,” Ranieri said. “We are alive and we want to fight. We go to Arsenal next and I hope we will concentrate as well as we have in the last two matches and continue our dream.”

With a 13-point gap over fifth-placed Manchester United as things stand, Leicester look almost nailed on to at least qualify for the UEFA Champions League which is something they’ve never done before.

A quick reminder of Leicester’s odds of winning the PL title at the start of the season: 5,000/1. If they manage to stay the course and pull this off it would be the biggest shock in PL history. Period.

While all the other title contenders have to play in the Champions League, Europa League and domestic cup competitions, Leicester only has 13 more games this season and that means their players will stay fresh and focused. They have no pressure and are playing with the freedom of a team who have no worries. They ere expected to battle against relegation this season and last year they only escaped the drop with a remarkable run of seven wins in their final nine games. This season it is so completely different.

Don’t listen to Ranieri. They can do this and given City’s stumbling form and Arsenal’s erratic finishing of late, they should be the favorites.