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A Philadelphia Union blog hosted by Christopher A. Vito and Matthew De George

Monday, January 30, 2017

Onyewu shows how the Union are keeping it red, white and blue

Oguchi Onyewu has the second-most caps among Americans
never to play in MLS. The Union looked to end that Monday
by signing the defender. (AP)
A thought occurred at Philadelphia Union training today that inspired a little digging on my part. The club announced the signing of Oguchi Onyewu, whose illustrious career includes stints in France, Belgium, England, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and Portugal. His CV includes 69 national team caps from 2004-14 and inclusion in the U.S. roster for both the 2006 and 2010 World Cups.

The glaring omission on Onyewu’s resume is having never played in MLS. His pathway to Europe – growing up in Olney, Maryland; residency at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.; two years at Clemson – is fairly conventional for an American, even if the 34-year-old center back took it to exceptional levels.

In chatting with my colleague, Jonathan Tannenwald of, while watching the Union train at Penn Park Tuesday, I wondered where Onyewu ranked among Americans abroad. Did the Union quietly sign the most distinguished American international never to play in MLS?

The answer is, not quite. But the Union got pretty close, and they’ve done this before.

Among American internationals of the modern era, only one player has more caps than Onyewu without playing in MLS. That would be Steve Cherundolo, who earned 87 caps with the U.S. and spent his entire 15-year playing career with German club Hannover 96 (where Cherundolo is now an assistant manager).

Onyewu, though, is second on that list for most caps in the absence of an MLS game, which will be rectified soon, presumably.

Next on that list, at least as of last summer, was Alejandro Bedoya, who secured 53 national team caps before his first MLS game with the Union following his million-dollar transfer from FC Nantes. Bedoya followed a similar trajectory as Onyewu, signing with Swedish club Orebro SK after his career at Boston College.

Onyewu follows a tried and true path of Americans who started their careers overseas and seek a coda on home shores. Claudio Reyna did it in New York in 2007-08, as did Kasey Keller in Seattle in 2009-11, both hometown moves. (The other name that surfaced as a possibility was Brad Friedel, who was capped 82 times for the U.S. But I forgot that he spent 1996-97 with Columbus before being signed by Liverpool.)

The active leader in this category is Fabian Johnson, who has 54 caps and has spent his entire club career (and upbringing, of course) in Germany.

The Onyewu/Bedoya parallels are likely coincidence as much as anything. But the Union have made a concerted effort to build around local talent, and extrapolating that to a global market means American players, particularly ones with recognizable names who can provide role models for the youth academy to emulate. They are among the MLS leaders with seven players on the current roster who have been capped by the U.S. (Bedoya, Onyewu, Maurice Edu, Brian Carroll, Charlie Davies, CJ Sapong and Chris Pontius), and their front office is shaped by American soccer stalwarts from whom the decision-making flows.

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