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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.”

England: Allardyce in hot water after controversial Telegraph report

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 21:  England manager Sam Allardyce and his assistant Sammy Lee listen to speakers during the UEFA EURO 2020 launch event for London at City Hall on September 21, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
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Sam Allardyce might be in a bit of trouble.

The England manager has been “caught” on tape by undercover Telegraph reporters in what’s being called a sting. Some of the banter is simply Allardyce being Allardyce — ripping on personalities he doesn’t like — and won’t affect much at all.

[ MORE: Watford’s Deeney rages after loss ]

Being outspoken isn’t a crime, after all. Other talk, though, could be quite damaging to the ex-Sunderland and Bolton boss. Allardyce reportedly flirted with getting big money to speak to a company that would be pitching third party ownership of players, which is strictly prohibited by FIFA.

From The Telegraph:

He agreed to travel to Singapore and Hong Kong as an ambassadorand explained to the “businessmen” how they could circumvent Football Association rules which prohibit third parties “owning” players.

Unbeknown to Allardyce, the businessmen were undercover reporters and he was being filmed as part of a 10-month Telegraph investigation that separately unearthed widespread evidence of bribery and corruption in British football.

The article is a part of an investigation the Telegraph claims will cause many problems for some big names in England over the coming days.

It could all come to nothing, though reports below show the Football Association will look into the Telegraph’s claims.

Watford’s Deeney raging after loss: “We got bullied to a man”

BURNLEY, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 26:  Troy Deeney of Watford looks dejected during the Premier League match between Burnley and Watford at Turf Moor on September 26, 2016 in Burnley, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
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Watford’s spirits have gone from the penthouse to outhouse in barely a week.

The Hornets hammered Manchester United last week only to look listless against Burnley at Turf Moor on Monday.

[ MATCH RECAP: Burnley 2-0 Watford ]

Outshone under the bright lights of Monday Night Football, Watford captain Troy Deeney is, in a word, angry.

From the BBC:

“Poor. I’ll have to watch my words or I’ll get in trouble. We got bullied to a man, Burnley stuck to their gameplan, fair play to them.

“We lost 2-0 on TV, we got run over and both goals could have been avoided. I’m very disappointed. You set high standards and if you don’t match them people will ask questions.”

With Bournemouth, Middlesbrough, Swansea City, and Hull City next on its Premier League docket, this is not a time for Watford to accept inconsistency.

To a man.

Burnley 2-0 Watford: Defour’s incisive crosses lead Clarets to win

BURNLEY, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 26: Jeff Hendrick of Burnley scores his sides first goal during the Premier League match between Burnley and Watford at Turf Moor on September 26, 2016 in Burnley, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
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  • Hendrick scores first PL goal
  • Clarets dominate first half
  • Defour with two assists

Jeff Hendrick and Michael Keane headed in Steven Defour crosses to lead Burnley to a comprehensive 2-0 win over Watford on Monday at Turf Moor.

Burnley joins five teams, including Watford, on 7 points. Goal differential has them tied with Leicester for 12th.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Jóhann Berg Guðmundsson was allowed to dribble in from the wing, and swung his left peg into a shot that went wide of a diving Heurelho Gomes.

Hendrick got the better of Gomes soon after, losing Jose Holebas and rising high to head home Defour’s corner kick.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Defour swept another cross above the fray in the 50th minute, where Keane leapt above the sleepy Watford back line to head past Gomes.

There were more chances for Burnley to go up three than Watford to trim its deficit, though Isaac Success almost dribbled his way to an 84th minute goal, and the Clarets will enjoy the tape from a thorough victory.

USWNT’s Lloyd shows human side, including rift with her family

BELO HORIZONTE, BRAZIL - AUGUST 06:  Carli Lloyd of United States celebrates after scoring during the Women's Group G first round match between United States and France during Day 1 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Mineirao Stadium on August 6, 2016 in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.  (Photo by Pedro Vilela/Getty Images)
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Carli Lloyd’s voice catches just briefly when she considers whether revealing the emotional scars of a longtime rift with her parents might someday bring her family back together.

It’s an ever-so-slight display off raw emotion from Lloyd, belying her usual no-nonsense exterior.

[ MORE: Spurs’ Kane returning early? ]

“Growing up my family meant the world to me. I would listen to every single thing they said. I would look forward to Christmases and Thanksgivings and just being with them,” Lloyd said. “And then to have this spiral, with not speaking to them, has really saddened me over the years.

“It’s been hard because there have been so many joyous moments in my career and my life and they haven’t been a part of that. So you know, definitely down the road, I’d love for things to work out and get back on track. Maybe this is a great opportunity for it to happen.”

Lloyd divulges that she has been estranged from her family since 2008 in her new memoir, “When Nobody Was Watching: My Hard-Fought Journey to the Top of the Soccer World,” which comes out on Monday.

Although she is intensely private, she says the discord in her family has been part of her journey. She had to be totally honest with her co-author Wayne Coffey.

“I don’t do fake,” she said in an interview with The Associated Press, echoing a theme from the book.

[ MORE: Bob Bradley to Swansea? ]

Lloyd’s rise culminated last year when she scored three goals in the World Cup final over Japan to win soccer’s biggest trophy. She was later named FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year.

But the 34-year-old midfielder’s career was peppered with setbacks. Lloyd was benched before the 2012 London Games by then-coach Pia Sundhage, who liked the combination of Shannon Boxx and Lauren Holiday. The demotion didn’t last long because Boxx was injured in the opener.

Lloyd started the rest of the way and scored both goals in the gold-medal match against Japan at Wembley Stadium. She’s the only player to score winning goals in consecutive Olympic finals: At the Beijing Games in 2008, she scored in overtime for a 1-0 victory against Brazil.

[ MORE: JPW’s Premier League Playback ]

By her side for the past 13 years has been James Galanis, her mentor and coach. Lloyd considered quitting the sport after college but her father approached Galanis after a training session and asked him to help his daughter.

Lloyd is fiercely loyal to Galanis, crediting him with making her the athlete she is today. He endearingly refers to her as “Ms. Lloyd” in emails.

She’s also loyal to another friend, goalkeeper Hope Solo.

When Solo was ostracized from the national team during the 2007 World Cup for comments she made following the semifinal loss to Brazil, Lloyd stood by her. Coach Greg Ryan had decided to play Brianna Scurry in goal rather than Solo and the United States lost 4-0. Solo publicly questioned the decision.

“Hope and I weren’t actually close prior to this. We got into a little bit of an argument about a car situation when we were in residency in 2006. With her big personality and my strong personality, our egos clashed,” Lloyd said, laughing. “This 2007 moment, I didn’t like what was happening. … I thought to myself, `This isn’t right.”‘

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Solo has often been a lightning rod for controversy and is currently suspended from the U.S. team for six months after calling Sweden a “bunch of cowards” for their defensive tactics during the Rio Olympics. U.S. Soccer has said the suspension was the culmination of several missteps.

“I’ve tried to wrap my head around the Olympics and just the way that we finished up, and Hope’s comment, and her suspension,” Lloyd said. “It’s weird. It’s weird being in camp without her there, weird sitting on the bus and she’s not across from me.

“I hope that in time after the suspension is over, after she settles down and U.S. soccer settles down, I hope that maybe they can come together and work it out.”

The United States was sent home from Brazil after the 1-1 draw with Sweden was decided by penalty kicks. It was the Americans’ earliest-ever exit from the Olympics after winning three straight gold medals.

For now Lloyd is looking forward to the immediate future. First there’s a book tour. In November she’ll marry high school sweetheart Brian Hollins.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule | stats

Ongoing are the collective bargaining agreement talks with U.S. Soccer. The team’s current contract expires at the end of this year.

The players are looking to bring their salaries more in line with those for players on the men’s national team. Lloyd was among five players who drew national attention when they filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission charging the federation with wage discrimination.

“Things are moving along,” she said about negotiations. “We’ve dealt with this before, where it gets down to the wire. It’s not something to stress out about, it’s the nature of the business. We had a World Cup, we had the Olympics, so things have been pretty busy. But we do have some time before the new year.”

[ MORE: Chelsea clear out? ]

Beyond that, there’s preparation for the 2019 World Cup in France and the 2020 Games in Japan. Lloyd will be 38 when the next quadrennial wraps up.

“I think the next three years of my journey is really all about enjoying the ride. It’s going to be over in a blink of an eye,” she said about her career. “I owe it to myself, I owe it to James, and all of my support system, to just make the most of it.”