A few minutes with U.S. defender Oguchi Onyewu
Oguchi Onyewu -- Washington native, U.S. central defender, AC Milan employee, very large man -- was back in the area for his older brother's wedding Saturday. The Insider caught up with him at Verizon Center, in the Washington Wizards' NBA training room, of all places, where he demonstrated a workout routine on the AlterG Anti-Gravity Treadmill, the high-tech contraption that helped him rehab from a ruptured knee tendon in time to play at the World Cup in South Africa.
Several sports organizations, including the Wizards, Manchester United and AC Milan, have implemented training on the machines, which allow athletes recuperating from lower body injuries to recreate the physical mechanics without the physical demands. Gooch pulled on a kayaking skirt of sorts, sealed himself into the air-pressure bubble and waited for his body to float slightly above the treadmill.
After a few minutes on the AlterG, Gooch chatted about his knee, the World Cup, his future with the national team and Coach Bob Bradley. Because of the wedding, he missed Milan's friendlies against Lyon and Arsenal in London and is scheduled to join the club in Detroit on Wednesday ahead of Friday's friendly against Greek club Panathinaikos at the Silverdome.
How is your knee?
"There is always going to be days that I feel sore. Even before the surgery, I had tendinitis in the knee, so there would be days that I didn't really feel like putting weight on it was beneficial, so I would always get on [the anti-gravity equipment] and vary the amount of weight that I am putting on my legs or my knees and still get the work out that I want to get in. There is nothing left over from the injury that bothers me. Right now, I am working on getting it ready for the [Serie A] season. I am not focusing on rushing back too soon during the preseason. I want to use this time to handle any loose ends so I can have a successful season injury-free. I don't want to be two weeks in and then one week out. [Milan] wants to take all the necessary steps and be thorough and make sure this knee is going to hold out for the whole season -- not just a month, not just two months, not just three months -- because I am definitely an investment for them. For me personally, I want to get out of this season what I didn't get out of last season."
What did you do when the World Cup ended?
"I got away from everything or anyone that was soccer related. I was in California for a bit, on the West Coast mostly. I didn't do much, just relaxed. For the past five or six years, I haven't had much of a summer to do that. I just focused on doing nothing."
You then reported to Milan. What was their response to seeing you again?
"They congratulated me for making it back for the World Cup and the U.S. team for advancing. I spoke to the medical staff and the team, told them where I thought I was, they concocted a program to get me in shape. I will meet up with the team in Detroit, but since I missed the first week of preseason, I have to catch up a little and then begin with the regular routine with the team."
Do you expect to play in Detroit this weekend?
"Probably not. I am not trying to rush back and play in the game just because it's here in America. I am there just to get ready and get fit, and in essence, this game is just a preseason game and the real deal starts in a few weeks [Aug. 29 vs. Lecce.]"
Do you expect Milan to loan you out this season?
"I have seen the rumors and heard about different opportunities, but I didn't re-sign with the team to leave. I am committed to this team. I didn't get my opportunities last season, so I am going to give myself that fair shot this year."
Are you being called in by the U.S. team for next week's friendly against Brazil?
"I don't know. You'll have to ask Bob Bradley. My focus right now is on getting ready [for Serie A], so if that means staying with Milan is more important, I don't want to do anything that complicates or jeopardizes me playing for Milan this season, especially since [the U.S. team] doesn't have any serious competitions coming up."
FYI: The USSF is tentatively planning to announce the roster in the next couple days.
Reflecting on the World Cup, was there a point where your knee bothered you?
"My leg was fine the whole tournament. At no point did I feel that there was any indication of it giving out."
What was it like for you when Bob told you, heading into the third match at the World Cup, you wouldn't start?
"He didn't tell me. Everyone finds out at the same time. He posted it. That's how I found out."
After starting the first two games, what was your reaction?
"Any player not in the starting 11 is going to be disappointed. I guess 'disappointed' would be the best word. It's a team sport; it's not tennis. There are other players involved. If it's for the better of the team, then it's for the better of the team."
Did you ever ask him why you had been dropped?
"We have never spoken about that. If he wants to, I am readily available. I am not one of those players that is going to dwell on it. It is what it is. I am a professional, I am a man. I don't need to have a pacifier in my mouth."
After being left off the starting list in the group finale, you must have assumed you would not start the round-of-16 match?
"I don't know how to answer that. I was just happy to be at the World Cup after the knee injury. The accomplishment of starting in the first two games was [great]. After that, it didn't work out as well as the beginning for whatever reason. I was happy just to be part of the whole experience."
[The day after the Americans were eliminated, Bradley said of Onyewu's benching: "Gooch has worked incredibly hard to be ready for the World Cup. He is a man of great character. When you watch, sometimes tough decisions are made simply based upon the fact of, at this level, even when you have worked hard, if you haven't had games, where is the player? You balance that with the opponent and the needs in that game, and balance that with your other choices. It would be impossible for Gooch to be at 100 percent given the time that he was out and the fact that there's not been that many games since he got back. Nonetheless, he showed that, even when he is less than 100 percent, he is a player who can help our team. The last two games, playing Carlos (Bocanegra) together with Jay (DeMerit) and using Johnny Bornstein on the left made sense."]
The four-year World Cup cycle is mentally and physically taxing. I assume, being just 28, you want to go through this again.
"I wouldn't say my national team career is over. I don't think I am old. Some guys have enough of it, but I enjoy the team, I enjoy being around the players, the relationships that we have built throughout the years. We'll see what the next cycle holds for us."
Do you feel more responsibility with several older defensive regulars probably leaving the program?
"I didn't realize that I was one of the younger defenders until after the tournament. I was like, 'Oh geez, DeMerit and [Bocanegra] and [Cherundolo]. This might be their last one.' It's in the back of my head. I am just going to keep playing until someone says I can't."
The USSF hasn't decided whether to offer Bradley a new contract. Do players think about those types of things?
"Sure. Coaches play a role in your career. Some coaches have different perspective of different players: One coach might think you're the greatest thing while another might think you are garbage. So I am sure that is in the back of players' minds if he is going to re-sign or not. There are definitely players that like him, definitely players who are out of favor with him, but it's part of the game."
Where do you stand on his possible return?
"I don't take any of my comments, positive or negative, to the public. Bob has done well. We got to the Confederations Cup final, we won the Gold Cup. We'll see what happens. Whatever his future is, I wish him luck, whether that's with U.S. soccer or him going overseas. We have to wait and see what happens."
August 2, 2010; 2:35 PM ET
Categories: 2010 World Cup , Italy , U.S. men's national team | Tags: AC Milan, Oguchi Oneywu, U.S. national soccer team
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