OBETZ, Ohio – It was a belated and bittersweet birthday present, but Duncan Oughton was one happy Kiwi on Tuesday.
He started the first day after his 33rd birthday by arriving early at the Crew training facility to watch the start of the New Zealand-Slovakia match at 7:30 a.m. prior to practice 2 ½ hours later.
“I didn’t want to be driving and missing some of it,” he said.
He was rewarded with a 1-1 tie on a stoppage time goal by Winston Reid to give New Zealand their first point ever in the World Cup.
As proud as Oughton was, he couldn’t help but wonder what it would have been like to be there. He helped the All Whites qualify, but was surprisingly left off the World Cup roster.
“Obviously, I’d rather be in South Africa, so it’s been an emotional, draining time,” he said. “I’m disappointed I’m not there but I know I helped get them there. I’m supporting them the best I can, sending my best wishes to the boys.
“It’s hard here right now to pull through some days, but it’s awesome to see the boys do well and deservedly so. I know how hard they’ve worked.”
His best friends on the New Zealand team are ex-D.C. United defender Ryan Nelsen and former Crew midfielder Simon Elliott.
“They both were beasts today so it was nice to see,” Oughton said.
He said he’s played with nearly everyone on the team in South Africa with the notable exception Reid.
“I’ve been getting e-mails and text messages,” he said. “Yesterday was my birthday so I got a few. I talked to Andy Boyens by text and 10-12 guys by e-mail.”
If anyone can relate to Oughton’s situation it’s Crew defender Frankie Hejduk, a two-time participant in the World Cup who did not make the U.S. roster this year.
The pair and friends and family watched the U.S. tie England 1-1 on Saturday.
“Duncan wore my jersey, so that was pretty cool,” Hejduk said. “He was rooting for the U.S. like I was rooting for New Zealand today. That was awesome for them. Not too many people thought they would do well in their game.”
Some of those skeptics were in the Crew locker room.
“A couple of guys had bets on New Zealand going out without scoring a goal but obviously they scored this morning,” defender Andy Iro said.
The Group F schedule gets tougher for New Zealand, with Italy on Sunday and Paraguay on June 24.
“We beat Serbia in the buildup and got a tie today,” Oughton said. “It would have been nice today to get a win and stand alone in the group and if you pull a tie out of another game you might sneak in.
“I’m still optimistic,” he added. “We said in the buildup we weren’t just going there to be a number. We were going there to compete and try to kick on through.”