First off, congratulations are in order to you Mr. Onyewu. After a collection of stand out performance at the Confederations Cup, you’re move from Standard Leige to AC Milan still caught me by surprise. While you have performed consistently well for the perennial Belgian power over the last few years now, it’s still a bit of a shock to see you moving to a (perhaps former) European superpower.
There are some in the media that are haling this as the greatest US transfer ever, though I can think of a few others that could contend (Tim Howard to Manchester United, Claudio Reyna to Rangers, Brad Friedel to Liverpool). Since a majority of the other important transfers for US players have been goal keepers, perhaps “most high profile US field player transfer ever” would probably be a more fitting headline. And while it’s a great step in the right direction for the US as a footballing country, I still have my reservations about this move.
Gooch is, without a doubt, one of the most important players for the USMNT. His presence in the back, especially with the emerging partnership he is building with Jay Demeritt, has helped to solidify an often porous US back line. While not blazing fast, nor necessarily the greatest reader of the game, he is a fantastic on the ball defender who was very capable of locking down Spain’s potent duo of Torres and Villa. The Confederations Cup magnified his growing confidence, and put the world on alert as to just how much he has improved since his dreadful spell at Newcastle. So from this viewpoint, I’m very pleased with his move in a normal season.
But this isn’t a normal season. It’s the season before a World Cup, and I see this move being risky if he doesn’t manage to get regular minutes.
Let’s imagine the following scenario: Onyewu goes to Milan and becomes their new Philippe Senderos… a.k.a third or fourth choice center back. When thinking about that, remember that Milan is a club with very high aspirations. Every season, they expect to be in the running for the the Scudetto, the Coppa Italia and the Champions League. Can we really expect Onyewu to start over the likes of Nesta, Kaladze or the newly signed Thiago Silva in big games?
I don’t. In fact, I don’t see him starting or seeing much of the pitch in the big games against league contenders (Inter, Juventus) or in the knockout games in the Champions League. I see him getting starts and minutes against Serie A minnows, in cup matches, or in unimportant Champions League group stage games. How will Gooch deal with knowing that he isn’t an automatic pick like he was at Standard and is for the USNMT? Will he be alright with not getting regular minutes?
So my main concern is that if he goes to Milan and rides the pine, he could suffer a sizable dip in form and confidence before next summer’s World Cup. Noting his importance to the national team, this could be a big problem.
He does however have some things going for him with this move. Nesta is getting old and becoming more injury prone. Kaladze is error prone, and in my humble opinion, sucks. Giuseppe Favalli is old enough to be my dad. Daniele Bonera is inconsistent and is also very familiar with the treatment table. So there is the possibility that Gooch might be given some opportunities in the big games, provided the cards fall right for him.
Personally, i think Onyewu would have done better to go to a mid-table team in an elite league. Aston Villa seemed like an ideal destination for him, with Martin Laursen’s recent retirement and Brad Friedel in goal. If Lescott decides to depart Everton for Manchester City, he could be the replacement and partner with national teammate Tim Howard, too. Or a move to a Roma or Lazio would not have been bad either. At these clubs, he would be more guaranteed of playing time and experience at a higher level.
I don’t blame him though. Would I be able to resist a big time move to Milan? Doubtful. And who knows if any of those other teams even had him on their radar. I just hope this move doesn’t backfire on him, or the national team.