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12 Yards Out: Q & A with Oguchi Onyewu

It's one against one, and the glory or blame is yours to claim. The result - witnessed by the world - reveals a great deal. That's the premise behind Center Circle's latest feature, 12 Yards Out. We'll take current or former U.S. National Team players and put them on the spot, ask provocative questions and let the chips fall where they may. Their answers promise to be funny, personal, and just like a PK ... unexpected.



May 13, 1982

Washington, D.C.

Height: 6'4"

Weight: 210

Current Club:
Standard de Liege
(Belgian First Division)

2006-07 record:
5-2-3 (League)
0-1-1 (Champions League qualifying - eliminated)
0-2-0 (UEFA Cup - eliminated)
1-0-0 (Belgian Cup)

Previous Clubs:
FC Metz (France)
Louviere (Belgium)

U.S. National Team:
Caps: 17
Goals: 1

FIFA World Cup roster (2006), CONCACAF Gold Cup Best XI (2005), FIFA World Youth Championship roster (2001), FIFA U-17 World Cup roster (1999), Belgian League Foreign Player of the Year (2005) 

One of four U.S. players featured on the cover of /sports Illustrated /prior to 2006 FIFA World Cup ... His given name, Oguchialu, means "God fights for me"

Photo © John Todd/ International Sports Images

1) You lost the trademark cornrows before the season started. Por que?
OO: Because I didn’t want my cornrows to be the trademark of me. Now I’m keeping it short and tight. I definitely surprised some people when I got back here.

2) Who butchers your name more – Americans or Europeans?
OO: I’m going to have to go with Americans. The Europeans don’t even try to announce my full name. The worst mispronunciation I’ve heard was ‘Agu Anu.’ That was pretty bad.

3) It’s 1-1 against Ghana, seconds away from halftime and the U.S. team in good position at the break. What goes through your mind when Markus Merk blows the whistle for the penalty?
OO: First of all, I couldn’t believe he blew the whistle because I knew I didn’t do anything. Second of all, at that point of the game I was thinking: ‘this isn’t happening. Why did this have to happen to me?’

4) Why do you get so many cards?
OO: Actually, I don’t, if you look up the statistics. I go through stages. Last year was a real bad stage. Right now I’ve gotten three yellow cards [Editor’s note: he’s played in six games.] I’m not a dirty player, I’m just physically imposing. Referees seem to mistake the two.

5) You must have watched the World Cup final. What would you have done if Zidane did that to you?
OO: First of all, I wouldn’t have provoked Zidane that way. But if he did that to me, there would have been some retaliation. Depends on how I was feeling at the moment. It’s a very rare occasion when I get angry, but when I do, it’s not a pretty sight.

6) What other international defender do you admire most?
OO: Paolo Maldini. I’ve always admired him for his play, but the fact that he can still compete at such a high level at his age is impressive.

7) Both you and Ben Wallace are excellent defenders, can you dunk like Ben?
OO: Can’t dunk like Ben. But I bet he can’t play soccer like me.

8) Have you experienced racism in Europe? Does it affect you?
OO: I have definitely experienced it. I’ve been punched in the face by opposing supporters. I don’t let it affect me. Something like that is only ignorance.

9) There is lots of talk about American players in Europe these days. Who, of your World Cup teammates, will be the next to play for a club in Europe?
OO: Clint Dempsey. I think he’s ready to play in Europe for sure. The big thing is to get on a team that fits you. If you don’t get on a team with a good situation, you could definitely be worse off than when you left the U.S.

10) Under what circumstances would you tell a young American player not to come overseas?
OO: When he’s too young to do so. A person has to have a certain maturity level to his comfortable surroundings to enter a foreign place. I would advise young players that if you’re going to make the leap to Europe, make sure you weigh the pros and cons Regardless of what you hear how great it is, there are upsides and downsides to everything.

11) You’ve got a big American flag hanging up at the entrance to your apartment. Why?
OO: You can’t forget where you came from. I have a Nigerian flag in my bedroom; American flag in my living room; and Maryland flag in the kitchen.

12) What’s different about Gooch post-World Cup then pre-World Cup?
OO: The experience that I took from it has made a better player as a whole. It’s helped me accept some things in life, in addition to my career. You have to fight some of the difficulties you have, and you can’t count on anybody to make them better except yourself. Going into the World Cup there were high expectations on our team and we weren’t able to fulfill them. I guess to sum it up I would say acceptance.