Prior to this year, I hadn’t heard the name Oguchi Onyewu, and prior to last month, I couldn’t pronounce (or even remember) it–I had to look it up somewhere every time I wanted to refer to him. This may be the first time you’re seeing the name yourself, but if you follow soccer (especially in the United States or Europe), it’s unlikely to be the last. Onyewu currently plays his club soccer for Royal Standard de Liege in Belgium, and he plays for the United States Men’s National Team. He’s a central defender, which is a position in which players rarely attract significant notice, but at 6 feet 4 inches tall and a solid 210 pounds on a generally small United States team, he’s noticeable, though not just for his size. He’s also fast, smart, and strong.
In the semi-finals and finals of this summer’s Gold Cup, Onyewu was instrumental in holding the United States’ opponents to one goal over two games, and he scored the winning goal in the semi-final game against Honduras. In this weekend’s World Cup qualifying match (in which the United States captured one of the first berths for next year’s World Cup in Germany), he helped to hold Mexico scoreless and headed an incoming free kick off the post that Ralston then headed in for the United States’ first goal.
I haven’t seen a player be so consistently dominant as Onyewu’s been over the last four United States Men’s National Team games (three of which I’ve been lucky enough to see in person). He can play tight man defense as far forward as the midfield stripe without letting his man or the ball behind him, and he can go forward when appropriate (though given his strength at the back, it’s rarely appropriate). He reminds me of Manchester United’s and England’s Rio Ferdinand, and not just because of the cornrows. Onyewu isn’t nearly as accomplished as Ferdinand, but with his size and skill, just give him a few injury-free years and the comparison won’t seem far off.