MEGHAN BRENNAN - Monday, May 24, 2010
Following a seven-month rehab stint US Men's National Team and AC Milan defender Oguchi Onyewu says he won't come back like he was before his knee injury, instead he'll come back stronger and just in time for the pre-World Cup friendlies.

"Tomorrow will be seven months, to the date, of the operation and I feel really good. I've done some extreme rehab in Delaware, LA, and Milan and thankfully I'm at the point where I can compete. I'm training regularly and I'm getting fit right now," Onyewu said last Wednesday in a press conference following US training camp at Princeton.

It was during a World Cup Qualifying match against Costa Rica in October that Onyewu tore the patellar tendon in his left knee. The result - as he puts it - was ugly, "My knee cap was in my quad muscle."

Although the Maryland native was only able to play in a single Champions League match during the 2009-2010 season, he says he is both physically and mentally ready for the important weeks ahead.

"No, I'm not concerned [about rust]. I've been training extremely hard, working a lot on my fitness, doing double days while I was in Milan so the rust factor won't be an issue."

A potential opportunity for Onyewu to prove he is a well-oiled machine may come Tuesday if called upon by Bob Bradley to play in the first of three pre-World Cup friendlies, versus the Czech Republic.

"If given the opportunity to play I want to show everyone, all the blogs, magazines and news papers that I agree with them; I won't come back like I was, I will come back stronger. I don't think I'm the same player I was seven months ago and I'm going to use this year, 2010, to prove it."

Onyewu claims he didn't listen to such media skeptics, not allowing them to alter his plans for a full return.

"I don't read papers and I don't listen to rumors," he explained matter-of-factly, "From day one, when people would say, ‘Onyewu is going to miss the World Cup,' I'd read it and turn the page."

If "Gooch" as he is known by fans and media alike, is deemed fit to play in South Africa it will mean back-to-back World Cup rosters. He is equally excited about the talent that surrounds him now as it did in Germany 2006.

"There were quality players in the last group with Claudio Reyna, Edie Pope and Brian McBride. We have equally talented players with Michael Bradley in the midfield, Jozy Altidore up top, plus Carlos Bocanegra, Steve Cherundolo and Tim Howard. I don't think there was any drop in quality or talent between the two cycles," Onyewu explained.

Onyewu sees the upcoming friendlies as an important opportunity to put the 2010 talent to the test and evaluate the team as a whole, before heading to South Africa.

"I think the games are very important especially because these are three good national teams; the Czech Republic, Turkey and Australia. It's going to be a good test for us to see where we are as a National Team and for the coaching staff to see what areas we need to work on."

Finally, although he wanted to keep the focus on the National Team, Onyewu ended the press conference by briefly explaining the reason behind his one year, 2012-2013 contract extension with AC Milan which won't include salary.

"Obviously this season had been lost for me in terms of playing and it was a sign of good faith the club was able to stick by me. I was able to show my dedication back to them by doing so [playing without salary]."

Following Tuesday's friendly against the Czech Republic at Rentschler Field in East Hartford Connecticut, Bob Bradley will take his team to Philadelphia where they will face Turkey in their last match on U.S. soil before heading to South Africa. The final pre-World Cup game will be played on June 5th in Roodepoort South, Afria against the Australian National Team.

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