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A Few Minutes with Oguchi Onyewu…

A Few Minutes with Oguchi Onyewu…

By Steven Goff

American defender Oguchi Onyewu has been in and out of his native Washington the past couple weeks, visiting family, working with a trainer and applying the final touches on his youth fitness initiative, GO Global, at Maryland SoccerPlex this weekend.

He was in Miami with, among others, Fabian Johnson and Jerome Boateng for an anti-racism campaign and he’s headed to New York for NBA star Steve Nash‘s annual foundation showdown.

Onyewu’s destinations in the coming weeks and months, however, remain unclear. He does seem likely to join the U.S. national team Monday in San Diego for CONCACAF Gold Cup training camp, although neither he nor the USSF will say anything definitively until later in the week about his status for the 23-man roster.

Onyewu’s long-term standing with country is intertwined with his club — and at the moment, despite being under contract with Sporting Lisbon for 2013-14, he does not have a firm place of employment this season.

“I’m not holding my breath” about returning on loan to Spanish La Liga club Malaga, he said over lunch in Tysons Corner on Tuesday. “I am looking for other options. I thought I was in good standing [last year] but it turned in the wrong way. I definitely need to put myself in a good place.”

A good place would be a club that will provide regular playing time. At Malaga, which finished sixth this past season and reached the Champions League quarterfinals, Onyewu was on the game-day roster for about half of the league matches but made only two appearances totaling 104 minutes. He played in four domestic cup matches, scoring twice, and three Champions League games.

Onyewu, 31, is obligated to report to Sporting’s training camp, whether in a week or in a month, depending on whether he is selected for the Gold Cup roster. But at some point this summer, he will probably move to a ninth club since leaving Clemson University in 2002.

“Germany might be the only place I haven’t been,” he joked. Onyewu’s past stops were Metz in France, La Louviere and Standard Liege in Belgium, Newcastle in England, AC Milan in Italy, Twente in the Netherlands, Sporting in Portugal and Malaga in Spain.

What about MLS?

“I will never exclude MLS,” he said, “but I am not ready to leave Europe yet.”

Onyewu said he has been 100 percent healthy for the past year. “The irony is, I’m ready to play but haven’t been given the time. I’m healthy — I need a showcase.”

Without a showcase, he acknowledges, regular national team call-ups are out of the question.

“I’m not surprised I’m not in the national team” for the final round of World Cup qualifiers, he said. “There are no grounds to be on the national team. Once I am playing, I can make that argument.”

Onyewu said he communicates with U.S. Coach Juergen Klinsmann periodically. Klinsmann’s message to all U.S. players has been consistent: You need to play regularly for your club to warrant steady assignments. Onyewu made four U.S. appearances in the summer of 2012 but at less than full strength, starting against Brazil and coming on as a sub against Scotland, Canada and Antigua & Barbuda (in a semifinal-round qualifier). He hasn’t played for the U.S. squad since.

Klinsmann’s first-choice tandem at center back is Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler, young MLS defenders who have matured considerably this year. Geoff Cameron and Clarence Goodson are next on the depth chart. World Cup veterans Onyewu and former captain Carlos Bocanegra, 34, will need to prove their value over the next nine months to warrant consideration for the 2014 Cup roster.

“Juergen wants me to excel, but I have to get in the right situation,” Onyewu said. “He has seen what I am capable of when I am injury free.”

Onyewu and several special guests will attend the GO Global Kickoff Fundraiser on Saturday from noon to 4 p.m. at Maryland SoccerPlex. Sixty youths from MSI and DC Scores will participate. (Onyewu played in MSI from age 6 until high school.)

Proceeds from ticket sales will benefit Onyewu’s non-profit initiative, which aims to combat youth diabetes and obesity. Tickets are available at the gate for $10 (youths) and $15 (adults). [Additional information is available here.]

According to Onyewu, the guests will include U.S. national team veteran DaMarcus Beasley, former World Cup players Eddie Pope and Tony Sanneh, the Washington Spirit’s Ali Krieger and Ashlyn Harris, NFL players Josh Freeman and Graham Gano, and Washington Redskins cheerleaders.

Jozy Altidore initially committed but then was summoned back to the Netherlands this weekend for the start of AZ Alkmaar’s training camp. Maurice Edu, coming off hernia surgery, might make an appearance and Charlie Davies is hoping to avoid conflicts with Danish club Randers in order to attend.