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Patience pays off for Gooch
by Paul Kennedy, July 8th, 2009 7AM
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[AMERICANS ABROAD] Oguchi Onyewu's signing with AC Milan is an example of being in the right place at the right time. For the last year and a half, Onyewu has been linked with dozens of clubs big and small. But instead of lowly English Premier League club Birmingham City, rumored as recently as last month to have wrapped up a deal with the U.S. national team defender, it's AC Milan that won the Gooch sweepstakes, signing the free agent to a three-year contract.

Onyewu, winner of back-to-back Belgian league titles at Standard Liege, saw his stock rise for several reasons.

Because of the important role he played in Standard's recent success, management agreed to let him go as a free agent instead of selling him last season.

Onyewu has been in Belgium for six years -- one with La Louviere and five with Standard -- allowing him to become eligible for a Belgian passport that allows him to avoid restrictions major European leagues have signing non-EU players.

Onyewu has been a well-known prospect for several seasons -- he played on loan to Newcastle in 2007 -- but his stock rose in recent weeks, following his standout game against Spain in the USA's 2-0 win in the quarterfinals of the Confederations Cup.

At 6-foot-4, he has always been known as an imposing defender but his errorless game against the Spaniards was the type of game Milan will be looking for in Serie A, where Italian clubs put a premium on tactics.

Onyewu joins Milan in need of defensive support following the retirement of Paolo Maldini and return of Swiss defender Philippe Senedros to Arsenal.

The competition for playing time will be fierce -- Milan's first team includes 17 defenders -- but Onyewu should get a legitimate shot of winning a starting job under first-year coach Leonardo.

The incumbents will be Kakha Kaladze and Alessandro Nesta -- both players sidelined in recent years -- and their competition will be Italian Daniele Bonera and recent Brazilian signing Thiago Silva, as well as Onyewu.

That battle for the starting jobs in the middle of the Rossoneri defense will begin on July 19 when the AC Milan plays the Los Angeles Galaxy at the Home Depot Center in the first of four games on a U.S. tour that takes Gooch and company to Atlanta (Club America on July 22), Baltimore (Chelsea on July 24) and Foxboro, Mass. (Inter Milan on July 26).

A hectic preseason abroad also includes the Audi Cup in Munich July 29-30, Eusebio Cup Aug. 8 against Benfica in Lisbon and the Trofeo Bernabeu against Real Madrid Aug. 25 in Madrid.

2002-03 Metz (3-0)
2003-04 La Louviere (24-2)
2004-05 Standard Liege (30-3)
2005-06 Standard Liege (29-2)        
2006-07 Standard Liege (15-1)
2007-08 Standard Liege (33-2)
2008-09 Standard Liege (32-3)
2006-07 Newcastle United (11-0)


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