June 26, 2013
ON THE COMEBACK TRAIL
Gooch: 'To be very candid and very blunt, this has been one of the most difficult seasons I have had to deal with professionally'
By Michael Lewis
|Oguchi Onyewu is working hard to regain his former form.
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
Thousands of miles away from the United States, Oguchi Onyewu, slowly, but surely, is making progress, making progress not only to return to the player he was once was, but to the U.S. National Team as well.
He has endured an arduous time recovering from a knee injury while trying to break into either the Malaga or Sporting CP squads. It hasn't been an easy road back and Gooch, as he is nicknamed, realized there still is a long way to go.
"To be very candid and very blunt, this has been one of the most difficult seasons I have had to deal with professionally," Onyewu said in a recent phone interview from Europe. "I think since my injury in 2009 to my knee this has been probably the first season since then I have been completely injury free and I've been feeling 125 percent every day, day in and day out."
But that doesn't mean the 31-year-old Onyewu has been able to play and test that knee as much as he wants, whether it is for Sporting (Portugal), where he has been on loan from Malaga (Spain).
"On the flip side of things, it has been one season that I have not been able to play as much as the other ones," he said. "So, on the professional level it has been very, very frustrating. On the personal level, I'm definitely learning more about myself and my resilience as a person and as a player. I definitely feel regardless of the lack of playing time that I have been receiving this season I have been using the time, my training individually and as a team to better myself and to definitely this does not occur for the following season and my career."
Onyewu has always been tough physically, never being afraid to mix it up with opposing midfielders and forwards.
Yet he has learned he has some mental toughness to deal with his comeback and injury problems and not playing.
"A lot of times you have to be secure with yourself," he said. "You have to have that sense of self worth. I am definitely realistic about the person I am and in terms of my ability. I know I am not the Cristiano Ronaldo of soccer. I am not under any illusion of that sort. But I know I do have a certain worth and I know it has not been given the opportunity to showcase it. I think the main for any person, especially myself in this situation, to not get too down on yourself . . . because it is almost human nature to get down because it's difficult. It's not easy to take it. But at a certain point you've got to pick yourself up and be like stop feeling sorry for yourself because nobody else will.
"You have to keep on pushing yourself and know that things will get better. That's what I firmly believe. My work ethic, my work habit, as they say is not a habit because I am actually doing it on purpose every day. This is a conscious decision I do every day, to work at the player that I am every single day to become better.
"Regardless of what America can see because they can't see what I'm doing here. Obviously I haven't been able to play. But I have been taking strides to be a better player. I definitely feel I am stronger [more] than I was a year ago. Hopefully in the next season I will have an opportunity to show the world."
Onyewu, whose foundation will host the GO Global Kick Off Event at the Maryland Soccerplex to give back to his roots and youth soccer in suburban Washington, D.C. on Friday, played a key role on the USA backline in qualifying for the 2006 and 2010 World Cups. So watching the Americans try to qualify without him has not been easy.
"In all honesty, it is gut wrenching not to be part of it at the moment," he said. "But at the same time I understand the decision as to why I am not there at the moment. Having been part of the last two World Cups, and as someone who is capable even more capable of contributing this time around makes that more difficult. Which is why I am even more motivated to define myself in a better situation for the following season. I wish the team nothing but the best always, representing the country. Qualifying for a World Cup is like no other. Do I wish I could be there? Yes, I do. Will I do the things necessary to get the opportunity again? You better believe it.
"I think the coaching staff of the national team is aware of my situation and aware of my desire to be back with the team. That's not going to stop today or tomorrow. That's going to continue."
Then perhaps the CONCACAF Gold Cup. Rosters are expected to be announced later this week. Gooch was named to the preliminary roster and if he was on the official 23-man roster for confederation tournament, which runs from July 7-28.
"I am excited and motivated to have been call back into the national team and on the Gold Cup pre-roster after such a long time," he said. "If selected to final roster I will put all my efforts into bringing the title back to the USA."
And if he got picked for the final roster?
"If given the opportunity, wonderful," he said. "I would definitely take that and run with it."
If not Europe, there is always Major League Soccer.
"I've been asked that a lot," Gooch said. "The honest [answer] is that I've never played Major League Soccer. I started my career in France directly. But I've never excluded MLS as an option for myself. Whether it be now, I am not so sure. But the future, you never know. I'm definitely not going to exclude that as an option. Definitely right now I am more focused on maintaining my status and being in Europe."