[USA 30] For all the talk of the USA's walking wounded in training camp at Princeton University this week, pre-World Cup injuries are nothing new to the U.S. squad. Others have certainly made comebacks, but the USA has never counted upon a player bigger than Oguchi Onyewu to recover in time for the finals. The 6-foot-4 Onyewu, out of action for more than seven months, promises to be back stronger than ever.
There has been perhaps no better player to lead the U.S. midfield at the World Cup than Claudio Reyna.
In 1994, a hamstring kept the University of Virginia midfielder out of the entire tournament at home after he had just won a starting job at the age of 20 -- and adorned the cover of Soccer America's World Cup Preview.
In 2002, a quad injury kept Reyna out of the opening game -- the 3-2 win over Portugal -- but he returned to lead the USA to the quarterfinals and earn himself a spot in the FIFA all-tournament team -- only the second American to do so.
Like Reyna, Frankie Hejduk had won a starting job late in the 1998 World Cup buildup but he was then sidelined by a hamstring injury. By the time he came on at the half for Mike Burns, Germany had exposed the American right side and went on to hand Steve Sampson's boys a 2-0 defeat, the first of three straight losses.
Hejduk played well enough in his next two games to earn a contract at German club Bayer Leverkusen.
Four years ago, John O'Brien was dogged by injuries. The hope was that he would be fit for the World Cup -- he had been a critical factor in the 2002 success -- but it wasn't meant to be. Like Hejduk, O'Brien came on at halftime of a game the USA was losing. He was ineffective in the 3-0 loss to the Czech Republic and didn't play in the rest of the tournament.
Onyewu's situation is a different story altogether. His performances in the latter stages of the 2009 Confederations Cup were among the best ever put on by an American defender and earned him a contract with AC Milan.
But he suffered a far more serious injury -- rupturing a patellar tendon in his knee in the USA-Costa Rica World Cup qualifier on Oct. 14 -- and is coming off a far longer layoff.
"From Day 1," Onyewu said on Thursday, "people were like, 'Oh, Onyewu's going to miss the World Cup.' And I'd read it, and then turn the page to the funny section. I always say that I know who I am and I know what I'm capable of and nobody from the outside can tell me what I'm capable of doing besides me."
Unlike Charlie Davies, whose recovery effort from the serious injuries suffered in a fatal car crash the day before Onyewu's injuries was a very public battle, Onyewu worked quietly to come back.
"I'm sure you read blogs and you read magazine articles or newspapers articles, and a lot of people are saying that I won't come back like I was," he said. "I'm going to go out and agree with them. I won't come back as I was. I'm going to come back stronger."
He may get his first chance Tuesday against the Czech Republic in East Hartford, Conn.