101314_isi_gonzalezomar_usmntjd101014108 John Dorton/isiphotos.com
U.S. National Team

Omar Gonzalez Assesses U.S. Defense, Donovan

The 26-year-old defender saw 30 minutes against Ecuador on Friday—his first taste of international action since the World Cup. ASN's Brian Sciaretta chatted with the six-foot-five Gonzalez after the contest.
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
October 13, 2014
10:13 AM
JURGEN KLINSMANN IS moving the puzzle pieces around these days, looking to find combinations that fit together all over the field. On Friday, Los Angeles Galaxy central defender Omar Gonzalez got his first opportunity to play with the national team since the 2014 World Cup, pairing up with Tim Ream in a 1-1 draw with Ecuador in East Hartford, Conn.

Gonzalez, who celebrated his 26th birthday on Saturday, played the final 30 minutes alongside Ream, and the two faced constant pressure as the visitors fought hard to get an equalizer. Ecuador did manage to tie the score in the 88th minute, and the draw seemed like a fair result.

“It felt good coming back to the national team,” Gonzalez said after the match. “I thought it’s been a really good week for me. Personally for me it has been really intense with really good workouts. Obviously tonight we wanted to win and we definitely had the chances to get the win but it ended up in a tie.”

During his 30 minutes, Gonzalez looked fairly sharp and his best moment came in the 68th minute when he had to defend a difficult one-on-one situation against the lightning-quick Enner Valencia. Gonzaelz stuck with him well and denied the West Ham forward an opportunity to make a close cross into the box.

Valencia, however, would find the equalizer and deny the Americans a win in the team’s first home game of the cycle. It was, Gonzalez noted, a bit of a mixed back for the Yanks.

“I think we [applied] a lot of pressure the first 60 minutes and we threw everything at them,” Gonzalez said. “Maybe it is that we’re not 90 minutes fit or that we don’t know how to work together for 90 minutes yet.

"Also, bringing in six subs doesn’t help. There’s a lot of confusion and guys have to get in on the right page really quickly. That’s when they started getting a bit more possession and putting us under pressure. Overall, we had our chances to win the game. We just weren’t sharp enough.”

After the contest Klinsmann said that he is confident with the defenders on the depth chart.

“We feel good about the center backs we have coming through the system,” Klinsmann said. “With Omar and with Tim Ream, they also need their minutes. It’s fun to see those partnerships developing.”

Similar to the last cycle, Gonzalez realizes the competition will be intense for minutes on the national team. Throughout World Cup qualifying, Gonzalez moved in and out of Klinsmann’s starting lineup before eventually finding himself as a backup behind Geoff Cameron and Matt Besler.

During the World Cup, however, Klinsmann turned to Gonzalez for the final two games—against Germany and Belgium—and the Dallas native put in a pair of strong outings. His performances in Brazil, combined with a strong MLS season, have given him a good deal of momentum.

“This pool we have right now, it’s a bunch of young guys who are looking to impress and to show Jurgen what they’ve got," Gonzalez said. "It’s good because it adds a lot of competition for spots. That’s what you want when you’re trying to build a strong team. No one feels comfortable and no one feels relaxed and everyone is fighting for their spots so you have to be great every single training session, every single game.”

The United States will play Honduras on Tuesday but Gonzalez will not take part in that match. he returned to the Galaxy for Sunday’s game against FC Dallas, a 2-1 loss, and will try to help L.A. win the Supporters Shield and secure home-field advantage for the MLS playoffs.

With eight wins, two draws, and one loss in its last 11 games, the Galaxy looks like a strong MLS Cup contender—and the steady Gonzalez deserves a lot of the credit for this run of form. So too does Landon Donovan, who received an emotional send-off before, during, and after the Ecuador match.

“Seeing Landon out there playing was awesome,” Gonzalez said. “I really wished he would have scored or gotten an assist. He was definitely close but it wasn’t to be. The emotional part for me was at the end watching the video and seeing him tear up with everyone cheering for all the goals on the screen. It was just a great night.”

“I’ve been locker-mates with Landon for six seasons now,” he continued. “For me, I’ve gotten to see him day in, day out at the Galaxy and see what kind of professional he is and how serious he has taken playing. It has been a pleasure to see. I’ve been lucky to be able to play with him and watch him. I think he’s always trying to help out young guys.

“Obviously he’s leaving some big shoes to fill—leaving the Galaxy, leaving the national team. It’s up to the young guys to strive to want to fill that hole.”

Do you see Omar Gonzalez as a first-choice central defender going forward? If not, then whom? Share your take below.

Brian Sciaretta is an American Soccer Now columnist and an ASN 100 panelist. Follow him on Twitter.

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