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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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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.”

VIDEO: Zlatan Ibrahimovic punishes Stekelenburg mistake with incredible looping goal

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Of course Zlatan would score like this. Of course he would.

With Maarten Stekelenburg deciding to come off his line and challenge Zlatan Ibrahimovic all the way out at the corner of the box, the super Swede poked the ball with his trademark karate kick. His touch sent the ball looping over Stekelenburg and into the net, but not without plenty of fun.

[ WATCH LIVE: Everton vs. Manchester United live on NBCSports.com ]

The ball comes down right on the line, bounces straight up into the crossbar, and comes back down still without having crossed the line. As the ball pin-balled around, Everton defender Ramiro Funes Mori realized the goal maybe could be kept out, and began to sprint his way back, but the ball slowly bounces over the line just before Funes Mori got there to clear it out. Unfortunately, replay showed the Toffees defender gave up on Zlatan’s touch; had he sprinted the whole way back, he likely would have reached the ball before it trickled over the line.

The goal is Zlatan’s eighth of the season, and put Manchester United 1-0 up just three minutes before the halftime break.

Scoring off four bounces and two posts is definitely daring to Zlatan.

VIDEO: Jurgen Klopp calls Bournemouth’s comeback a “deserved win”

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Jurgen Klopp clearly struggled to come to terms immediately with their collapse against Bournemouth, as Liverpool fell 4-3 on an injury time winner after leading 3-1.

The Reds were incisive throughtout the opnening hour, but once Ryan Fraser came off the bench the game changed, and Nathan Ake finally scored the winner four minutes into extra time.

“I think I have to say an absolutely deserved win for Bournemouth. Congratulations for this performance and for this big fight, what they delivered today. I think for a long part of the game we were the better side and we would have deserved to win, but in the decisive moment we gave the game away to Bournemouth. We opened them the door and they ran through with all they had, so that’s absolutely deserved because they stayed in the game and scored some wonderful goals.”

[ RECAP: Bournemouth completes stunning 3-goal comeback vs Liverpool ]

Klopp appeared to be collecting his thoughts as he spoke, often trailing off sentences to formulate new thoughts. What could be taken away, however, was that he believes, coming off a down year, that a rebuilt Liverpool squad is still learning how to complete full matches in a winning manner.

“When you’re on the way from…I would say, last year number nine in the league, a kind of average team…to a team which really wants to achieve something…when you have a start like we had, sometimes life and the impressions you can collect leads you in this direction to think ‘oh we are really good’ and we are good, but at the end only when we are 100% [will we be good].”

The German’s body language appeared to show he wasn’t too concerned about the loss, but didn’t hold back about his assessment of the team’s performance.

“First half I said – even when we were in the lead – I said that how we tried to play football was not good, it was kind of static. Then we concede a goal, then we scored a goal, 3-1 now it’s decided if you want. Obviously we gave it again away because we didn’t play football anymore so…and that’s our fault, and credit is to Bournemouth.”

Klopp finished with a chuckle, saying “if we learn from it it’s ok, and we’ll learn from it, but we were really bad.”

Watch Live: Everton vs. Manchester United (Lineups & Live Stream)

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 30:  Henrikh Mkhitaryan of Manchester United in action during the EFL Cup quarter final match between Manchester United and West Ham United at Old Trafford on November 30, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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For the last year, Wayne Rooney has had to earn his place week in and week out for Manchester United. Finally he has, and suddenly they’re forced to be without him.

The Manchester United captain is suspended for yellow card accumulation as the Red Devils go to visit Everton with a chance to move into sixth in the Premier League table, live on NBCSN at 11:00 a.m. ET or live online at NBCSports.com.

[ WATCH LIVE: Everton vs. Manchester United live on NBCSports.com ]

Despite the miss of Rooney, it’s Everton that comes up with the truly surprising teamsheet. In a poor run of form with just one win in their last eight, Everton manager Ronald Koeman has dropped both captain Phil Jagielka and midfield playmaker Ross Barkley. Ramiro Funes Mori comes in to replace the captain in defense, while Tom Cleverley comes back into the side after two straight on the bench to replace Barkley.

For Manchester United, Jose Mourinho has finally answered calls to start Henrikh Mkhitaryan, including him in the lineup in place of Juan Mata, who drops to the bench. Mkhitaryan has played well in his few opportunities as a substitute and in cup play. United also sees Paul Pogba back after suspension, as is Marouane Fellaini.

LINEUPS

Everton: Stekelenburg; Coleman, Williams, Funes Mori, Baines; Cleverley, Barry, Gueye; Bolasie, Lukaku, Mirallas.
Subs: Robles, Jagielka, Deulofeu, Barkley, McCarthy, Valencia, Holgate.

Manchester United: De Gea; Valencia, Jones, Marcos Rojo, Darmian; Carrick, Herrera; Mkhitaryan, Pogba, Martial; Ibrahimovic.
Subs: Romero, Bailly, Blind, Fellaini, Lingard, Rashford, Mata.

Bournemouth 4-3 Liverpool: Ryan Fraser sparks Cherries to stunning comeback

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It’s never easy for Premier League minnows Bournemouth, but somehow they always seem to show up in the biggest moments.

Substitute Ryan Fraser, on for an injured Junior Stanislas in the 55th minute, made all the difference. He assisted two and scored one as he sparked the Cherries to an exciting comeback, winning 4-3 on a late goal by Nathan Ake deep into stoppage time. While Bournemouth goalkeeper Artur Boruc made a pair of early mistakes that led to visiting goals, Liverpool goalkeeper Loris Karius spilled one that saw Ake snatch the winner.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Out of the gates, Liverpool maintained a firm control over the game through the opening 10 minutes. The spell of possession earned them the game’s first chance on 10 minutes as Origi missed a sitter, delivered by Nathaniel Clyne on the right edge of the penalty area low beating defender Steve Cook to Origi right in front of net, but sliding to meet the ball he bundled the chance and it trickled wide.

That would be rectified 10 minutes later as Liverpool would steal a pair of goals in the blink of an eye. In the 20th minute, a ball over the top from Emre Can met a streaking Mane who blistered past a hapless Nathan Ake and bagged the opener. It appeared that Ake expected goalkeeper Artur Boruc to come off his line and assist. That would be relevant as just three minutes later, a horrific mistake by Boruc saw Origi in as the goalkeeper came way off his line all the way to the right edge of the penalty area to challenge the Liverpool youngster, but Origi easily touched passed Boruc and finished from an incredibly tight angle to put Liverpool 2-0 up.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

Bournemouth seemingly had a way back in when Roberto Firmino appeared to trip Ake at the top of the penalty area, but with referee Bobby Madley starting straight at it, he waved off the penalty shout. Following that moment, the hosts proved themselves in the flow of the game, holding a number of decent spells of possession up to halftime.

Out of the break, Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe brought on former Liverpool youngster Jordon Ibe, and the boss was forced into a change not 10 minutes later with Stanislas needing a replacement in Fraser. Not a minute on the pitch, Fraser made an impact as he was bumped to the ground by James Milner in the box, and Bournemouth had themselves a penalty, which Callum Wilson finished cooly to give the Cherries a lifeline.

The referee had to talk Jurgen Klopp off the ledge with the Liverpool manager losing his mind moments after the penalty, as Bobby Madley and fourth official Stuart Atwell told him no more antics or he’d be off. That spurned Liverpool to a response, and Mane produced a brilliant run on ball into the box, cutting towards the middle before feeding Emre Can for a one-timer that he buried into the top corner for a 3-1 lead just past the hour mark.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

The Reds needed goalkeeper Lorius Karius to keep out Fraser in the 70th minute with a shot from straight on tipped over the bar. They came as close to a fourth as physically possible without scoring moments later as Milner nearly scored directly off a corner, but goal-line technology showed that Boruc caught the in-swinger with literally a hair of the ball still on the line.

Bournemouth again pulled within a goal with an incisive counter-attack with 14 minutes left, this time with Fraser on the end of a cutback from substitute Benik Afobe. The goal, the 22-year-old’s first in Premier League play, sent Bournemouth away bursting with confidence, and they came right back down to equalize. A cross by Fraser found Cook standing tall at the spot, where he collected, turned, and poked home for a 3-3 scoreline.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

With Liverpool on roller skates, Bournemouth pushed for a winner the whole way through five added minutes, and they’d get it a minute from the final whistle with a deep drive by Steve Cook spilled by Karius, and Ake was there to poke home, needing a pair of touches to get it over the line past a helpless Liverpool goalkeeper.

The win, Bournemouth’s first ever over Liverpool in league play, sees the Cherries jump into the top half of the table on 18 points, sliding past Watford into 10th. Meanwhile, a stunned Liverpool loses ground on the top, with both Arsenal and Chelsea winning on Saturday, leaving Liverpool four points off the top in third with 30 points.