Despite a nail-biting end to the Eredivisie season for Oguchi Onyewu, where he and FC Twente were denied a league title to add to their KNVB Bekker trophy, the USA defender has set his sights high by targeting Gold Cup glory.
Last year he was forced to watch from the sidelines as USA crashed out of the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ in dramatic style against Ghana, being knocked out of the Round of 16 in extra time - part of a tough injury-plauged year for the big centre-back.
Having been absent from the side that lost out in the CONCACAF continental tournament in 2009, Onyewu told FIFA.com how he is hoping to help turn around the side's recent international fortunes and keep up his 100 per cent Gold Cup record by claiming his third winner's medal.
FIFA.com: Having made it back into the starting XI earlier this year, are you confident of featuring in USA’s opening Gold Cup match with Canada?
Oguchi Onyewu: The Gold Cup is a different entity, a different monster [to March’s friendly with Argentina]. I think the preparation in playing in the season right now with Twente and the form that the team has been in will definitely help me in regards to the momentum I go into the national team with. But just performing well at my club won’t guarantee me a spot in the US team as there are a lot of good players and I’m sure just as much as I want a spot they want it too. I have to make sure that I’m on top of my game and make sure that I remain where I am with the team.
You missed the Gold Cup two years ago, where USA lost to Mexico in the final. Are the squad eager to redress the balance this year?
I’ve won the 2005 and 2007 Gold Cups, but wasn’t part of the 2009 campaign, and I’m sure everyone will be really hoping to bring the cup back to America. We have a sense of pride in winning this tournament and we will do everything in our power to regain that title. But we do know that are a number of very good teams competing, such as Mexico, Costa Rica, and there’s a bunch of teams capable of winning it. We aren’t taking it lightly and we’ll be focusing all our efforts on succeeding in the competition.
Should you finish in the top two of your group you’ll be playing the quarter-final in your home town of Washington DC, which must be something to look forward to?
Yeah, definitely. Considering the last time I played in DC was when I got injured, if that happens to be on the cards in our tournament I’d be thrilled and I’m sure I’d have to get a lot of tickets for that game to have everyone come to watch, especially my family. But yes it’d be great to play in DC again.
You made you return to the national side in a friendly with Argentina, how was it facing FIFA Ballon D’or winner Lionel Messi?
Messi is without a doubt one of, if not the, best player I’ve ever played against. I really don’t know how to describe him because he’s remarkable. His movement, his technique, and the things he does just leave you watching in awe. There was one moment during the game when he was dribbling at about five guys and didn’t lose the ball – I don’t think there’s many players in the world who can do what he can.
USA had a dramatic FIFA World Cup, both in qualifying top of your group and being knocked out in extra time. How do you reflect on the tournament?
It’s bittersweet. I think it was definitely good for America to get out of our group, we performed better than the previous World Cup, but I think we definitely had the capability to go further than we did. It makes no sense to dwell on it now seeing as you have to wait another four years. I think America in general were watching and were very proud, but while the team felt the same we were disappointed in regards to how far we felt we could have gone.
Do you feel USA’s performance at the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup proved you have the potential to go places in big international tournaments?
Definitely, we overcame that stigma that US teams don’t belong in the later parts of tournaments, and we proved that with convincing victories over Egypt and Spain. But I think more so now than in the past teams know that we aren’t a team to be walked over, and regardless of whether we’re the best team in the world, people know we’ll give them a game for 90 minutes.
Finally, 2011 has already been quite good to you and has the potential to be a great year, come December what do you hope to be looking back on?
At the beginning of the year I definitely wanted to achieve regular football, and I made a big step towards that by signing my loan deal at Twente, but from here on I don’t want to look far ahead of myself and trip over my feet. I’ll be hoping to add to the strong end to the season with a good Gold Cup showing. From then on we’ll just see, there’s endless possibilities of what can happen from here to then so let’s just hope for the best and I’ll just do all I can to keep myself fit and my sharpness going.