Onyewu: U.S. soccer’s best kept secret?

Onyewu has cut a commanding figure at the center of defense for the U.S. national team.
Oguchi Onyewu, who made his AC Milan debut in a 2-1 friendly defeat to Mexico’s Club America, is the first player from the United States to be signed by the Serie A giants and is a rising talent in world football.

The ‘Rossoneri’ have put their faith in a 27-year-old defender, who has become a lynchpin of his national team in recent times — but how did the stopper climb the ladder of success The imposing Onweyu, who stands 1.93 meters tall and tips the scales at 95 kilograms, was born in Washington D.C., one of a family of five to Nigerian-born parents. While at high school in Maryland, he showed immediate promise and was selected for a soccer academy run by International Management Group (IMG). After graduation, Onyewu spent two years in collegiate soccer at Clemson University before taking his chance in Europe. CNN’s Patrick Snell interviews Onyewu. » He was originally at Metz in France before being loaned out to La Louviere in the Belgium league and finally to Standard Liege where he has spent the majority of his professional career. Because of his strong performances with Standard, Onyewu was constantly linked with a number of leading European clubs, but finally had his chance when sent out on loan to Newcastle United in the English Premier League. Joining for the back end of the 2006-07 season, he formed an uncertain partnership with Titus Bramble in the center of defense, which, combined with the arrival of new manager Sam Allardyce, was to cost him his place. Newcastle decided not to make his loan move permanent and Onyewu returned to Standard to help them win successive Belgian league titles. He was involved in a controversial incident at the end of the current season during the championship playoff against Anderlecht. Onyewu claimed Anderlecht defender Jelle Van Damme called him a “dirty ape” and persisted despite being reported to the referee.

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The Times of London reported on June 2 that Onyewu had taken legal action in a Brussels court over the alleged slur, hoping it will help eradicate such incidents in the future. His lawyer Jean-Louis Dupont said Onyewu felt compelled to take it further. “He was convinced it was his duty to lodge the complaint,” Dupont said. “It is not a question whether Van Damme is racist. The issue is that these slurs are still used on the pitch, and are being used because they know it hurts.” Onyewu made his debut for the U.S. national team in 2004 and played all three games for the side before their exit from the 2006 World Cup. But it was his performances in the recent Confederations Cup in South Africa which showed his qualities to the full. After the U.S. beat Egypt 3-0 to reach the semifinals, Onyewu was outstanding again in the shock 2-0 defeat of world number one-rated Spain to reach the final. The U.S. went on to lose the final 3-2 to Brazil, but Onyewu had again sparked renewed interest, including Milan, who had tracked him since 2004. He signed a three-year deal earlier this month with the seven-time European champions, who are in a rebuilding process after the retirement of club legend Paulo Maldini and departure of Kaka to Real Madrid.

Onyewu is the second U.S. international to play in Serie A. Former national captain Alexi Lalas played for Padova from in the 1990s.