2010 Retrospective: Onyewu at the World Cup

Oguchi Onyewu USA World Cup 2010 Ashley Cole England England V USA (1-1) Group C 12/06/10 at the Royal Bafokeng Stadium FIFA World Cup 2010 Photo Robin Parker Fotosports International Photo via Newscom

July 7, 2009 was an inspiring and hopeful day for US soccer lovers. If you’re not a savant and that date doesn’t ring a bell, it’s the day USMNT center back Oguchi Onyewu signed a three-year deal with Serie A superclub AC Milan. He’d just finished a remarkable string of games in which he helped lead the USMNT to the finals of the Conderations Cup, and it seemed as though the sky was the limit for both Onyewu and the future of Americans looking to break into elite European leagues. In terms of the National Team, we had found our defensive anchor and there was a strange tingle of optimism in our bellies as we looked ahead to South Africa 2010.

But just 3 months later—in October of 2009—disaster struck. In a World Cup qualifier vs. Costa Rica, Onyewu suffered a knee injury which caused him to miss the rest of the 2009-2010 season.

As the World Cup approached, huge questions surrounded Onyewu regarding both his physical and mental match fitness. He did enough in training camp, however, to convince Bob Bradley he could still be an asset to the National Squad—despite no live game action in months—and he was left on the roster. None of us knew how he would look in a game. Would he be a mere shadow of the beast he’d been a year before at the Confederations Cup?

In our newest 2010 Retrospective post, FFG will statistically analyze Onyewu’s two World Cup performances. The metrics we’ll examine are tackles  and clearances. In addition, we’ll take a look at the subcategory of headed clearances (successful vs. failed) as this is an especially relevant stat for a center back. To provide some reference, we’ll lay out Onyewu’s stats alongside the other center backs who featured at the World Cup, Carlos Bocanegra and Jay DeMerit.

We all had our own subjective reactions to Onyewu’s World Cup play, but what do the numbers tell us?

PlayerGames (CB)Successful TacklesFailed TacklesSuccessful ClearancesFailed ClearancesSuccessful Headed ClearancesFailed Headed Clearances
Onyewu2119843
Bocanegra22012120
DeMerit4511919118

The limited amount of data available does restrict the analysis, but some conclusions can be drawn from the above stats. First, and most generally, Onyewu was not the strongest center back on the squad. It would be harsh to call him a “mere shadow” of the towering figure he had been a year before, but these numbers suggest a certain hesitancy or shyness–not what we expect from our 6’3″ intimidator. Take tackles, for instance. It’s not so much that he only made 1 out of 2 tackles, but the fact that he only attempted two tackles over the course of two games!

If he seemed shy on the ground, then he was at times outright awkward in the air, and this is reflected in his statistics regarding clearances. Roughly half of Onyewu’s clearances failed. Let me put that another way–when Onyewu was tasked with whacking the ball out of the defensive third and releasing pressure (hardly a precise science) there was a 1 out of 2 chance that he would NOT alleviate pressure. This is not at all a reassuring number.

Which brings us to the second important conclusion drawn from this data. Much to the surprise of FFG, it may tell us more about how strong Bocanegra was at center back than how shaky Onyewu was. Bocanegra made two appearances at center back–vs. Slovenia and Algeria. He too only attempted two tackles, but his numbers for clearances are impressive. Twelve successful clearances means twelve possible shots Howard did not have to deal with. Over the course of two games that is a significant contribution, and the savvy veteran was clearly an effective force when anchoring the backline.

Onyewu has yet to break into Milan’s first team. He is making some headlines (for a Jerry Springer like brawl with Zlatan Ibrahimovic), but not the type we’re hoping for stateside. Rumors have him moving on in the near future to a club that might more appreciate his contributions. The best thing for Gooch, and for USMNT fans, would be a move to a team with the patience and faith to let him play back into form. At 28, he has plenty of playing life remaining, maybe even a contribution in Brazil 2014.

One Comments Post a Comment
  1. Bradley's Receding Hairline says:

    During the cup I thought maybe he was just rusty but I seem to remember hearing that his Milan coach thought he was still off the pace this fall.

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