Transcript: Oguchi Onyewu on signing for Philadelphia Union

Photo: 215pix

Oguchi Onyewu took questions from the press on Wednesday after signing a contract to play for Philadelphia Union. Questions below have been paraphrased.

What about the Union made this the right decision for you?

I always said that if I ever came back to play in MLS, in America, after my passage in Europe, I’d want to be on the east coast. I kind of limited my options to DC, the New York teams, Philadelphia, amongst a couple more. Things… almost formulated a couple years back if it hadn’t been for an injury. At that point, I was looking for the right situation and the right team to come into. And fortunately Philadelphia was that team this year. With Earnie, Chris Albright, Curtin, I really believe that they have a strong team and a strong vision for the remainder of the season. I really wanted to see if I could be a part of it and help them out, and fortunately they felt the idea as well, and things worked out.

In your mind, with a 34 game season, how much do you want to and expect to play?

For me personally, I don’t ever join a team not intending to play. My ambition and my goal is to play every minute and every opportunity that I can. Whether that’s a reality in the season, because a lot of things happen, a lot of different games, competitions, injuries, little knicks and knacks here, but my goal is obviously to compete and I’ve never not been a 90 minute player. To answer your question in short, I’m here to make an impact and help the squad. And for me personally, that would be on the field.

Aside from Charlie Davies, are there other guys on the team that you know well? And did that factor into your decision?

I would say it was a good factor, obviously, to be in a situation where you know a bunch of the players on the team and you’ve played with a bunch of them. It makes the acclimation period a lot more easy, and more fluid. Obviously, Charlie and myself are very close. I’m very close with Maurice Edu, obviously. Played with Alejandro Bedoya, so we’re really good friends as well. Chris Pontius, Brian Carroll, there’s a number of players that I’ve known prior to signing here. And that was a good surprise for me. I think this is probably the best situation I could’ve ended up with right now. So I’m very excited, I’m thrilled to be able to play with friends in this coming season because thus far in my career I’ve never had the opportunity to play with anybody that I’ve known. So this is a good, new experience for me.

What stands out to you about the other defenders you’re working with?

For those players, as well as other players in the squad, it’s a young team. And they have a lot of talent, a lot of athleticism. It’s a long season and everybody’s going to get their chance. For me, my role and I think my responsibility more so than my role, is to aid these players and to help them with my knowledge and my experience. If that means coaching them or playing with them, so be it. I think what I lack right now in terms of age and youth, I have in experience, and that’s the flip side of what they do have and don’t have.

Did the opportunity to teach a guy like Auston Trusty make the Union a particularly appealing option for you? 

What appealed to me was to have the opportunity and occasion to play. That was my primary. I bring a veteran’s experience to kind of aid them and push them along. To be fair, when I was young, I was always partnered with an older and more experienced center back whenever I played with any team in Europe. Whether it be George Costa, or Dragutinovic, or anybody — Nesta — there was always a good mix. And I think for a lot of teams, to find a good balance, you have to find a good mix. You have the tenacity and the legs of the youth, but you need to have the experience of the older players who have been in those games and can kind of calm it down and lead by example, and by word of mouth as well. I think the Philadelphia Union last year, they had a good squad. But I think if you had to pick an element that they were lacking, it was sort of the experience of a veteran player. And obviously, if you wan to check boxes, I kind of fell into that role.

What have you seen about MLS’ development watching from afar?

That’s hard to say. I don’t think I’m well-placed as an outsider coming in to comment on the league. But if I had to base it on conversations with other players that have played in it from overseas, and watching the games, I’d say that the league in itself: Where it lacks in comparison in the technical side of things, they have in terms of the athleticism. And that’s what makes it really hard because, as Americans, we’re born athletes. And the game is really fast and really strong, and you have these players that can go forever. And I think that’s one of the strengths of the league. You ask that to any European player that comes into the league, they’ll tell you that their first season was very hard, to kind of keep up — not necessarily with the football — but with the pace of the game. So that’s my observation from the outside looking in. That might change in the months to come, but I’ll take it in stride and see what happens.

Have there been times when you could’ve played during your time off? 

In the middle of 2015, I succumbed to an injury and it took me about six months to come on the field. Instead of taking the opportunity of playing and signing with teams in the January window of 2016, I opted to continue my recovery and to train rather than to jump in right away and play at 80%. I took the six months from January to June to get myself to the form I wanted to be in. That would have led me to summer of 2016. From there, that’s when I actually started to kind of re-entering the football world. And MLS was a valid option. I looked at some other scenarios and some other teams, and those things didn’t come to fruition for one reason or another. And so for me, and for any player, you have to remain patient and control the factors you can control. For me, that meant staying in shape, working out, and just keeping focus, which I did up to this point. And ultimately be ready when the occasion and the opportunity presents itself. Which, fortunately for me, happened last week. So that’s where I am right now. Regardless of the amounts or lack of playing that I’ve had in the years, right now I don’t think anybody watching me would say that I’m not fit or that I’m not capable of playing next to anybody on my team.

Do you feel like a few more years is a possibility for you? 

Let’s look at things in reality: I’m 34 years old, so I’m not going to play another 15 years. But if the question is do I have some more left in my tank, I certainly do. You’re going to see every time I’m on the field I’m going to give 110%, whether that means I play for one year, whether I play for 3 years or 4 years, that’s impossible for me to predict. There’s a lot of other factors other than opportunities that come up, whether that be injuries or family issues or whatever. Right now I’m just taking the occasions as they come, and I’m thankful to god and everybody else for giving me this opportunity to play again. But if I have to say: Is retirement in the future? Of course, it’s in everybody’s future. But how soon that’s going to come? I can’t tell you.

Was it tough not playing the past year and a half? 

It didn’t take me a year and a half to get healthy, but to answer that question, it’s not the easiest process to stay patient. I think for anybody being a player, but moreso being a man, you have to take situations as is, and control the factors you can control. Sometimes you want to pull the hairs out of your head, but it’s important to trust the process and trust in your ability and know that things are going to work out in the end regardless. And that’s where I am right now. And honestly, if I look back, if I had entered into any of the other situations, I wouldn’t be with Philadelphia Union. And personally, I think this is the best situation for me and my career moving forward right now.

Over the past few years, what have you reflected on that might change how you approach the game, and how will that play out in what we see from you on the field? 

From me, you’re going to see 100%. Obviously, my presence is always going to be a big factor, my size, my strength, but now it’s going to be moreso my experience. I’m going to have to fall into a role of leadership as well, which I take in stride and that’s no problem for me.

Honestly, I don’t see my age as any kind of fault or negative. There’s a lot of players in this league that are older than me that nobody actually speaks about. There’s players on the national team that nobody speaks about. For everybody to focus in on my age, I don’t think that’s… I think that’s quite ignorant and ignoring everybody else around me. If you want to focus on injury, that’s one thing, but age is not going to be a factor for me. I think for any discipline, for any sport, as long as you can keep up you shouldn’t look at the numbers. And that’s how I feel right now. I don’t look at players that are younger than me and say, ‘Oh you’re younger than me. I look at players next to me and say, ‘You’re my teammate.’ And that’s it. We’re all on the same level field, and we’re all competing for the same position. And that’s how I’ve done for my whole career.

What do you see as the things that you’ve gained from the experience you’ve had, now that you’ve had time off to reflect on it. Are there things you notice about guys who are able to keep up a high level as they get older and more experienced?

Obviously, once you get older a huge part of the game is maintenance. And taking care of your body. Being professional, eating right, treatment, recovery, things like that. As we speak, I’m in between training sessions and I’m doing compression normatech on my legs because I want to be fresh for the second training session. It’s about prevention, it’s about anticipation, it’s about being proactive, and I think you gain that with experience. And that’s some of the things I see about players that play longer. They’re very professional on the field, but moreso off the field. It kind of transcends and turns it into playing not being a factor, and enjoying your football. For me, I try to do the little things right every day, not just one day, so I do it all the time and it’s a consistent thing for me. And that’s how I’m going to live this season.

How does it feel to have signed a contract again, and now you can move forward to be part of a team again, part of a roster? Relief? Excitement? 

It’s all those words, and some. A couple days ago I had a post on Instagram and the smile in the picture kind of speaks my emotions. It’s a sigh of relief, it’s joy, it’s all those together. To be part of a team. But not just a team, a team that you have friends on, a team that believes in you, a team that wants you, a team that wants you to be a part of their plan. It’s a special thing. You should never take it for granted. Sport is not given to you, it’s earned. And I think that more so in recent times of soccer, you see a lot of players that are out of contract that don’t find a team. And it’s not because they aren’t good, it’s because the opportunities haven’t presented themselves to them. I don’t take it for granted, I’m ecstatic about this opportunity and about coming back to America and playing in MLS and playing in front of family and friends, and just establishing myself in the league.


  1. I absolutely love his mindset. Can’t wait to see this team in action.

  2. I shall furthermore refer to you as…
    Welcome sir… oh and one last thing before shutting it down for the night, you’re goddam right about expecting to play and I expect to see you play. LOTS.
    Welcome to the city that loves you back.

    • Yeah, at first I thought he was signed to be the 3rd CB, but now I’m thinking there’s a pretty good chance he’s a starter, with Marquez and Yaro fighting for that other spot. They probably could use the organization of a vet back there. Will be one of many interesting battles to watch this preseason.

  3. Kudos to the Union for signing yet another capped leader of this country’s footballing elite. Contract length and minutes played are irrelevant when you think how he can mentor our very talented but very inexperienced backline. This has all the makings of Process. Very anxious for this season to get underway.

  4. Sounds like leadership, this team needed a good boost of that. As long as he doesn’t Soumare-y it and plays, great. The more he gets run out, the better we are.

    • Soumare didn’t do anything wrong aside from being a Nowak signing which Sak and Hack decided to then freeze out of the squad.

  5. Old Soccer Coach says:

    Thank you Adam Cann. Most useful, most useful.

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