“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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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.

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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.”

Wenger: Arsenal “complacent, had no ideas” in Ostersunds loss

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Perhaps Sunday’s League Cup final had already reached the forefront of their minds, but Arsene Wenger admonished his players, whom he said were “complacent, not focused” and “had no ideas” for much of Thursday’s Europa League defeat, at home, to Swedish side Ostersunds.

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The Gunners advanced to the round of 16 on the back of their 3-0 first-leg victory last week, but Wenger was understandably displeased by the effort he saw and expressed such feelings in no uncertain terms, before quickly easing up and praising the fact they were able to pull back a goal against the current fifth-place team from Sweden — quotes from the BBC:

“We were not at the races in the first half,” said Wenger, who saw his side booed off at half-time and full-time. I think in the second half it was much better and we should have scored a few goals.

“In the first half, we were in trouble and in danger because we were complacent, not focused and were open every time we lost the ball. We had no ideas with the ball and that’s why we were in trouble.

“We responded very well because we did the job to qualify, but that’s what we have to take from the night and that’s all.”

With Arsenal now trailing fourth-place Chelsea by eight points (and seven back of fifth-place Tottenham Hotspur), winning the Europa League might just be the Gunners’ last chance at qualifying for next season’s Champions League.

Batshuayi racially abused by Atalanta fans

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Borussia Dortmund striker Michy Batshuayi says he was subject to racist chants from Atalanta fans during a Europa League game in Italy.

The Belgium international, on loan from Chelsea, tweeted:

Dortmund advanced to the round of 16 by drawing 1-1 to beat Atalanta 4-3 on aggregate on Thursday.

The game was played at Mapei Stadium in Reggio Emilia because Atalanta’s home stadium is unsuitable for UEFA games.

There have been several incidents of racism at Serie A matches this season.

Whitecaps defender Tim Parker being tracked by several teams from East

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Tim Parker’s next destination could very well be closer to his hometown, however, other MLS sides are in hot pursuit of the U.S. Men’s National Team defender.

[ MORE: CCL recap — FC Dallas falls, Club America struts its stuff ]

The Vancouver Whitecaps center back has been the subject of trade speculation recently, and Pro Soccer Talk has learned that Parker has turned down a new contract with the Cascadia side that would have kept the 24-year-old in Canada for at least three more seasons.

Multiple sources have told PST that the deal Parker rejected was worth over $1.4 million in totality. Metro New York’s Kristian Dyer was the first to report the story.

Parker was subject to make roughly $99,000 in 2017, according to the MLS Players Union, although he’s expected to receive a significant increase with any new deal that he signs. On an average basis, Parker would have made over $400,000 annually had he signed a new contract with the Whitecaps.

A New York-native, Parker has been looking to return to the East Coast after spending three seasons with the Whitecaps. The former Saint John’s University standout was selected in the first round by the Whitecaps in the 2015 MLS SuperDraft, after spending all four years with the Red Storm on the collegiate level.

Sources can also confirm that D.C. United and the Montreal Impact have emerged as the leaders to obtain Parker’s services if a deal is struck with the defender, although a move to the New York Red Bulls hasn’t been ruled out.

The Red Bulls have shown interest in the young defender for some time — and would be the preferred destination for the player — given Parker’s New York roots. A combination of allocation money and a player would likely be needed from the Red Bulls if the Eastern Conference side proved to be serious about pursuing Parker.

D.C. has managed to acquire significant allocation money over recent years, particularly GAM, which would prove to be essential in signing Parker. Ben Olsen’s defense has been built around USMNT center back Steve Birnbaum — who arrived in 2014 — but an addition of Parker would surely benefit a D.C. back line that conceded 60 goals in 34 regular season matches a season ago.

Meanwhile, a move for the Impact would be logical given the fact that the Canadian side lost center back Laurent Ciman this offseason when the Belgian international was traded to expansion side Los Angeles FC.

Police officer dies after fan violence before Bilbao-Spartak Moscow

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BILBAO, Spain (AP) A Spanish riot police officer died of cardiac arrest after clashes involving Russian soccer fans before a Europa League match on Thursday between hosts Athletic Bilbao and Spartak Moscow, raising concerns less than four months before the World Cup in Russia.

Basque Country authorities in northern Spain said the officer died in hospital after the confrontations outside San Mames Stadium in the city of Bilbao, which will host matches in the 2020 European Championship.

Police also said a Russian man was injured but the extent of his injuries was not immediately disclosed. Five people were arrested – three Russian nationals and two Spaniards.

The identity of the dead officer was not immediately disclosed.

Spartak won the match 2-1 but Athletic advanced 4-3 on aggregate.

Earlier Thursday, German police arrested a Russian suspected of seriously injuring a British soccer fan during the European Championship in France two years ago.

The trouble in Spain erupted ahead of the round-of-32 match in the second-tiered European club competition.

Police were escorting some Spartak fans into the stadium but a stray group allegedly started igniting fireworks and throwing flares and objects toward Athletic supporters and police officers.

The fighting spread onto the streets near the stadium and police struggled to restore order. Many fans were seen trying to run away from the trouble as fireworks exploded all around.

There was concern ahead of the match because of the reported presence of `Ultra’ Russian fans in Bilbao, and a large police force was deployed to try to prevent fan trouble.

Six year ago a fan died in Bilbao in clashes after a match between Athletic and German club Schalke.