While the story of the night was Club America’s defeat of Italian giants AC Milan by a score line of 2-1 in the World Football Challenge, the bigger story was that of American International Oguchi Onyewu’s debut for the Italian side after having been signed from his previous side Standard Leige of Belgium. Having joined the team only 2 days before the match, Onyewu was on the bench to start the match that would be the first for the Italian side in the tournament. Having already defeated Inter Milan in the tournament, America players had to be riding high and primed for another upset, one they would realize in regulation this time.
Onyewu, wearing #14, was welcomed to the pitch at the start of the second half to a resounding ovation from the American fans in attendance as he replaced Milan veteran Alessandro Nesta. Before his arrival on the pitch, ESPN showed an interview with Milan coach Leonardo, in which he praised the American player for the size and strength Onyewu would add to his squad. This interview was followed by a second half Onyewu would hope to forget soon enough.
Early into the second half Onyewu got caught flat footed, allowing America forward Enrique Esqueda to get in behind him on a ball over the top, that would lead to the opening goal being put past Milan’s keeper into the top of the net. After this announcer Alexi Lalas, stated that this should calm Gooch’s nerves a bit and get him going. It did, and Gooch played a solid match until the final whistle sounded, at which time Milan found themselves defeated 2-1. A disappointing start to his Milan career as Onyewu put it in a post match interview, but one he will relish as his arrival on to the big stage in world football.
Is this a good move for American soccer? I think so. Gooch is a big strong defender as his new coach Leonardo put it and one that could do well for the Rossoneri going into the future, with a current backline of aging stars. Starting out the second half had to have stars in Gooch’s eyes, but it must be something wonderful to look back on, when he can say he made his debut for one of the largest clubs in the world on American soil. And the big American defender need not feel too bad as veteran defender, Gianluca Zambrotta, also had his own preseason mishap by allowing America forward, Daniel Marquez, in for the winning goal in a defensive blunder of his own. So keep your chin up Gooch, it is only preseason, and we know you will do better as you become accustomed to your new surroundings.
Some have questioned whether or not Gooch is even good enough to play for a side such as Milan. To this I say watch and see. Milan stated that they did not just pick up Gooch based off of his Confederations Cup performance, in which he was the U.S. Mens rock at the back, but that they had been following his progress for awhile. He is not the quickest defender, but what big league better to go to when you lack a little in pace than the Serie A? The players are older for the most part, and most by that age have lost a step or two over the years. He will be strong in the back for Milan and receive plenty of playing time with the aging backline already in place and multiple competitions the club is involved in throughout the season. This should help grow him into an even better player for the USMNT as well, getting the tutelage of one of the best coaching groups in the world of football. And if that does not work out Onyewu could always fill in as a forward for Milan as he did in the dying minutes of the match. Leonardo had asked Gooch, the largest player on the field, to move forward as a target man for the forwards to play off of. This job was done quite nicely as Gooch set up the young Zigoni multiple times in the dying minutes, only to see said chances miss the mark. The season will get better Gooch and we will be following you from here in America, you can be assured of that.