World Cup 2 days

World Cup 2010: Will Oguchi Onyewu start for United States against England?

Oguchi Onyewu is training at full strength and fitness, but has yet to play a 90-minute match for the United States since his injury.
Oguchi Onyewu is training at full strength and fitness, but has yet to play a 90-minute match for the United States since his injury. (Kevork Djansezian/getty Images)
By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 9, 2010

IRENE, SOUTH AFRICA -- With three days left until the United States faces England at the World Cup, the American lineup is beginning to take shape.

One particularly vital issue, however, festers: Will Oguchi Onyewu start?

The 6-foot-4 center back from Olney has regained strength and reclaimed fitness after rupturing his left patella tendon in October. But no 90-minute performances in any of the three tuneup matches the past two weeks has left supporters, reporters and the English coaching staff wondering whether he will take the field at Royal Bafokeng Stadium in Rustenburg for Saturday's Group C opener.

"There are no issues with me playing a full 90," Onyewu said before Tuesday's training session. "Obviously, I would have loved to be able to see if I could play a full 90, but as it is, not a lot of [U.S.] defenders played a full 90. I am sure Bob [Bradley, the head coach] was trying to disperse the time as evenly as possible."

Perhaps, but the absence of a complete match for such a long period and ahead of the World Cup is concerning. Onyewu started all three U.S. games in Germany four years ago and, even at an imperfect level, remains the most imposing figure on a back line that has returned to health after suffering several medical setbacks.

Bradley is likely to partner Onyewu or Clarence Goodson, a W.T. Woodson High School graduate who starred at the University of Maryland, with Jay DeMerit.

Bradley was not available to comment Tuesday and, without going into detail, said Sunday that "we are trying to move [Onyewu] along appropriately."

In the three friendlies, Onyewu accumulated 139 minutes and started once. He entered last Saturday's 3-1 victory over Australia in the 61st minute and gave a satisfactory performance.

"You can see him starting to come along," DeMerit said. "I don't think he or anyone was under any illusions that he would come in and be perfect. When you have horrific injuries like that, you need to relearn a lot of the key things."

Goodson, who matches Onyewu's height if not his muscle and international experience, was in the starting lineup for all three tuneups.

"I feel fine," said Onyewu, who joined Italian titan AC Milan last summer after several years with Standard Liege in the Belgian league. "There have been no complications, nothing that has restricted me from any kind of training activities or game activities."

In addition to DeMerit, two other starting jobs seem secure: Steve Cherundolo at right back and captain Carlos Bocanegra at left back. Should Bradley rule Onyewu unprepared to start and feel the need for additional experience in the middle of the four-man back line, he might turn to Bocanegra, who has typically started at center back for the national team and on the left for his French club, Rennes.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2010 The Washington Post Company