WASHINGTON — Oguchi Onyewu has spent much of the past two years hearing he’s the wrong man for the job.
So when the former US national team center back headed in his first career MLS goal on his 35th birthday, helping the resurgent Philadelphia Union to a 4-0 win over D.C. United on Saturday, his celebration took an understandably emotional turn.
“I don’t know, I just went crazy,” said Onyewu, who had gone two full years — and numerous MLS trials — without appearing in a match before debuting for Philadelphia in March.
“When I saw it go in the back of the net, just emotions took over me,” he added. “At first I think I was calm, and then it just hit me. And I was like, 'Alright, let me just run around like a little boy, like I was back to being 23.'”
Onyewu’s header of Haris Medunjanin’s corner gave Philadelphia a 2-0 lead nine minutes after Luciano Acosta’s red card had reduced D.C. United to 10 men.
And after purchasing 50 tickets for family and friends from his nearby hometown in Washington D.C.’s Maryland suburbs, it was a storybook moment for the one-time international stalwart who had been plagued by injuries in recent years.
“It only feels so long because it has been so long,” said Onyewu, who last scored in a competitive game for Sheffield Wednesday in the 2013-14 FA Cup. “A lot of people in the league that thought I was too old, too injured to play, too old to compete, I think they’re opening their eyes and realizing otherwise right now.”
Remarkably, Onyewu was one of three Union players to score their first career MLS goals as Philadelphia won a second straight match and ran its modest unbeaten run to four games.
Medunjanin got his first on a 39th-minute belter to give Philadelphia the lead, and Fafa Picault’scurler to make it 3-0 opened his MLS account.
And while the Union still have considerable ground to make up in the Eastern Conference table, their plus-1 goal differential — and three straight shutouts — suggests reports of their demise may have been premature.
“Things change fast in this league,” said Union captain Alejandro Bedoya, who logged his first MLS assist on Philly's final goal of the night, a golazo from Fabian Herbers. “For us, you guys have known that I’ve been really strong about keeping shutouts. And here we are, we have been able to keep shutouts, keep teams from scoring on us, and it allows us to win games. So hopefully this starts the momentum for us.”
Onyewu has been at the middle of that effort over the last two matches after a three-game stint on the bench. And despite the tread on his tires, he hopes to remain in the lineup for a long time to come.
“They tease me on the team,” he said. “[But] I said, as long as I can turn back the clocks two hours a day, you can’t call me ‘old man.'”