TORONTO — Oguchi Onyewu couldn’t have asked for a better start with his new team.
The American center back not only went 72 minutes in his Sporting Clube de Portugal debut, as the Lions defeated Juventus 2-1 on Saturday in a World Football Challenge match at BMO Field, but he also notched an assist in the first of Yannick Djaló’s two goals and put in a solid shift on the back line.
“Overall I felt good,” said Onyewu after the match. “Obviously it’s the first time that we worked together and there’s some things we need to do better in terms of the movement, but I think overall we played very well defensively.”
Sporting finished a distant third in Portugal last season and have undergone changes this year, including hiring new manager in Domingos Paciência, who has been using a 4-1-3-2 formation.
Onyewu — who joined Sporting in late June — was one of a number of new faces that joined the club this year in an attempt to return the Lions to the top. The defender’s first training session with the club was on July 16, and made his first appearance in a preseason win over Turkish club Ankaraguçu two days later.
The 29-year-old is getting a fresh chance to rebuild his career after a disappointing stint with Italian giants AC Milan, during which he was hampered by injury. He finished up last season with FC Twente in the Netherlands before signing a three-year deal with Sporting.
“I’m thrilled to be here, I’m very happy to be part of this team,” Onyewu said. “I definitely believe in the vision that this new formation is going to do and with the vision that the coach has and the quality of players we have on the team. I think we’re a young team but with a lot of quality and a lot of potential. You could see that in the game with our threats on goal.”
The victory over Juventus was Sporting’s only match in the World Football Challenge as their Primeria División schedule looms. Sporting hope to catch last year’s league winners FC Porto and runners-up Benfica in the upcoming season, but Onyewu wasn’t about to make any predictions.
“It’s too early to say,” he said. “Obviously we are happy with the win [vs. Juventus], but winning isn’t our overall objective in the preseason; it’s to get better. I think we are on the right path to get better. If we had tied the game or lost the game, it wouldn’t have meant anything into the season. We are continuing to work hard and that was our primary objective.”
Onyewu sounds off on international teams’ US tours
The US international is no stranger to the World Football Challenge. In 2009, Onyewu made his AC Milan debut in a victory over Mexico’s Club América.
He sees the value of having top international teams play in the United States and Canada.
“It’s always good to have big teams, big European teams, come and showcase themselves in North America,” he said. “Having soccer not being the first sport [in the US], it gives people an idea and shows people the quality that football has and the potential it has.
“And I think with the MLS, it’s a growing sport, and I think if more people get used to it and if more people watch it they are going to follow it, and it’s going to continue growing.”