Three Thoughts on Omar Gonzalez' Move to Pachuca
December 22, 2015
THE FIRST MAJOR WINTER TRANSFER of an American player was finalized on Tuesday as Omar Gonzalez parted ways with the Los Angeles Galaxy and signed with Pachuca of Liga MX.
Gonzalez, 27, has played his entire professional career with the Galaxy and has emerged as one of Major League Soccer’s most recognizable players, starring alongside the likes of Landon Donovan, Robbie Keane, Giovani Dos Santos, and David Beckham.
To date he has earned 30 caps with the U.S. national team dating back to his debut in a 2010 friendly against Brazil in New Jersey. Over that time Gonzalez, currently ranked 33rd in the ASN 100, has been a regular starter for the senior squad but never for a prolonged period. His most high-profile international caps came against Germany and Belgium in the 2014 World Cup.
The change of scenery is actually the second time Gonzalez has attempted a move abroad. In January 2012 he was loaned to FC Nurnberg in the Bundesliga but tore his ACL in his first training session when he was on the wrong end of a tackle from future U.S. national teammate Timothy Chandler.
In an era where many U.S. national team players have returned from abroad to play in MLS, Gonzalez’s transfer makes him one of the most high-profile players to move abroad in recent years. Here are my thoughts on the move.
Gonzalez needed a new challenge
Gonzalez has an impressive domestic resume. In 2008 he won the NCAA national championship with the University of Maryland and was drafted by the Galaxy with third overall pick in the 2009 Superdraft. That season he helped the Galaxy turnaround a last-place finish with a Western Conference title where it eventually fell in the MLS Cup finals. Along the way, Gonzalez won the 2009 Rookie of the Year award.
Since that time he has also won three MLS Cups and two Supporters' Shields, and he was awarded the MLS Defender of the Year in 2011. He was named to the MLS Best XI four times—in 2010, 2011, 2013, and 2014.
As a result, there is nothing left for Gonzalez to prove in this league and over the past season it showed. Gonzalez was not growing as a player and appeared to stagnate. He had shown many times just how good he could be. Absent any challenge, however, it sometimes seemed like there was nothing pushing him to improve.
Now with a new club in a new league, he will be forced to play well on a consistent basis or lose his spot. He is good enough to be one of the better Liga MX defenders but nothing will be handed to him. Like any player, he is only going to go as far as he can when in strong competitive environment. MLS was the right fit for him for the first seven years of his career but he needed, and got, a change of scenery.
Gonzalez can provide leadership
At Pachuca, Gonzalez will be a veteran on an otherwise young team. Founded in 1901 it is one of the oldest clubs in the Western Hemisphere but most of its success has come since it earned promotion to the top flight in 1998. Since then it has won five Mexican titles, four CONCACAF Champions Leagues, and the Copa America Sudamericana.
Even with all of its success over the past 18 years, Pachuca is looking to improve on its 12th place finish in the 2015 Apertura.
There should be an opening for the six-foot-five Gonzalez. Colombian central defender and team captain Aquivaldo Mosquera, 34, struggled in the Apertura. Many of Pachuca’s other defenders are there on loan—including Hugo Rodriguez, Victor Guzman, and Omar Esparza.
Gonzalez, a World Cup veteran, has played in many mportant games ranging from World Cup qualifiers in Estadio Azteca to CONCACAF Champions League matches to MLS Cup finals. The opportunity is not just there for Gonzalez to contribute but also to lead. It is up to him to take advantage of it.
Liga Mx Yanks often struggle with U.S.
It will be very interesting to see how this move affects Gonzalez’s international standing with the U.S. team under head coach Jurgen Klinsmann. Gonzalez' uneven performances with the Galaxy in 2015 saw him miss out on both the CONCACAF Cup in October oand the opening World Cup qualifiers in November.
He can still get back into the picture, certainly, and a strong showing with Pachuca will likely expedite his return.
Should he earn another call-up, will he be able to establish a spot on the team? That's a difficult question. For whatever reason Americans in Liga MX have struggled on the international stage. Michael Orozco, Ventura Alvarado, Greg Garza, Joe Corona, Edgar Castillo, and Jose Torres have all found varying degrees of succes in the Mexican top flight but none of them have parlayed this into steady time with the U.S. national team. True, Damarcus Beasley used his time in Mexico to improve his international standing, but he had also played the game at the highest level before arriving in Liga MX.
So will Gonzalez buck the trend and find success for both club and country? It would make for a noteworthy story that could be quite significant—perhaps opening doors for other American players looking to make similar moves.