U.S. international Oguchi Onyewu's first match with AC Milan didn't quite play out in storybook fashion, but that took nothing away from the significance of his first appearance in the red and black stripes.
Onyewu was beaten via an aerial pass for a goal (which rarely happens) and he saw his team beaten by a Mexican team (very rarely happens), but still had a chance to be a hero late in the game. He sent a perfect header into the path of young Italian striker Gianmarco Zigoni, but the 18-year-old scuffed the potential equalizer, allowing Club America to hold on for a 2-1 victory in World Football Challenge action in the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.
"Definitely disappointed with the loss," Onyewu told reporters after the match. "We could have done better with the two goals. We had chances to capitalize, to win the game, but sometimes that's how it is.
"That's why we have preseason games like this, to rectify the things that are troubling us."
Club America outplayed its Italian counterpart for the majority of the match but didn't find the net until the 56th minute, when young Mexican striker Enrique Esqueda slipped away from Onyewu, received a perfect cross and powered home a volley from close range to make the score 1-0.
The goal spoiled an otherwise impressive 45 minutes of action for Onyewu. Coming on for Alessandro Nesta at halftime, Onyewu was his usual dominating self in the air, and even pushed forward late in the match to give Milan a target player up top. The move helped create some chances as he was able to head the pass to Zigoni, just minutes before chesting a pass to a wide-open Zigoni at the top of the area. In both instances, Zigoni failed to finish.
Filippo Inzaghi gave Milan life when he ran onto a perfectly weighted long pass from Mathieu Flamini and tied the score in the 66th minute. Ronaldinho, Milan's best and most dangerous player for most of the match, nearly found a go-ahead goal in the 72nd minute only to have a perfectly struck free kick saved by America goalkeeper Armando Navarrete. Ronaldinho had also come close in the 32nd minute, but that free kick caromed off the crossbar.
Club America found the game winner in the 86th minute when Daniel Marquez beat defender Gianluca Zambrotta in the air to power home a header from close range.
However, Milan's attack struggled to generate chances and felt the absence of former star Kaka, as well as Alexandre Pato and Andrea Pirlo. Ronaldinho and fellow midfielder Clarence Seedorf tried to create, but couldn't produce as many goal-scoring opportunities as Club America did. The central midfield tandem of Gattuso and Flamini spent more time delivering crunching tackles than trying to create (Flamini's pass on Inzaghi's goal aside). Given Milan coach Leonardo's lineup decisions, it really looked as though he was saving most of his top players for Friday's match versus Chelsea.
Ronaldinho tried his best to drive the attack, but found few teammates making good runs into space for his passes. Luca Antonini came close in the 40th minute when he ran onto a perfectly placed Ronaldinho pass, but Antonini sent his shot high.
For its part, America was also missing key players, including Mexican national team midfielder Pavel Pardo, who sat out the match. However, America showed off an edge in fitness -- which was to be expected from a team just a week away from the start of the Mexican season -- and showed more determination, controlling possession for long stretches. The fact that there were far more Club America fans than Milan fans at the Georgia Dome also helped galvanize the Mexican side.
The match got testy around the 62nd minute after tackles by Gennaro Gattuso and Marek Jankulovski led to some shoving matches. The incidents seemed to spark Milan, which found Inzaghi's equalizer soon afterward.
As for Onyewu, although he had some nervy moments, he was otherwise impressive for a player who had trained with Milan for just one day before the match. The match was Onyewu's first since starting for the U.S. national team in the Confederations Cup final loss to Brazil on June 28.
The win was Club America's second in succession against an Italian giant after beating Inter Milan 5-4 on penalty kicks on Sunday in the first match of the World Football Challenge. That match was tied 1-1 at the end of regulation, but WFC matches that end in ties go to penalty kicks, and the winning team earns an extra point in the round-robin tournament. After two games, Club America appears well-placed to take home the title.
As for AC Milan, the Italians return to action Friday in the World Football Challenge versus Chelsea in Baltimore. U.S. eyes will be on Onyewu, a native of Washington, D.C., to see if he gets the start in that match.
AC Milan vs. Chelsea
M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore
8 p.m. ET, ESPN, ESPN360.com
AC Milan vs. Inter
Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass.
5 p.m. ET, ESPN2, ESPN360.com
Chelsea vs. Club America
Cowboys Stadium, Arlington, Texas
7 p.m. ET, ESPN2, ESPN360.com
Ives Galarcep covers the U.S. national team and MLS for ESPN Soccernet. He also writes a blog, Soccer By Ives. He can be reached at Ivespn79@aol.com.