61713_isi_gonzalezomar_usmntjd060613127 John Dorton/isiphotos.com
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Omar Gonzalez Is Ready for Round 2 vs. Honduras

Though he struggled against Honduras in a February World Cup qualifier, Omar Gonzalez is ready for the rematch. He tells ASN's Jon Arnold that he has grown comfortable within the U.S. team.
BY Jon Arnold Posted
June 17, 2013
5:29 PM
SANDY, Utah—The last time Omar Gonzalez saw the Honduran national team he was a wide-eyed center back making his first significant start with the U.S. national team. It didn’t go as well as he, or U.S. fans, would have liked.

The Galaxy defender had a mix-up with goalkeeper Tim Howard that led to the Catrachos’ winning goal and a 2-1 result in San Pedro Sula.

“That first time I stepped on the field in Honduras it was pretty crazy,” Gonzalez said before training Monday. “First really important game for this team was a World Cup qualifier, so that just made it even more nerve–wracking. Now that I’m here, I’ve had a few more games under my belt, and I feel a lot more comfortable. Now it’s just like any other game. You just have to focus on the things you do before every game, and hopefully things go your way.”

The gravity of a World Cup qualifier won’t spook Gonzalez any longer. As he mentioned, the match in Honduras was the first of many qualifiers for the towering defender—Gonzalez has played every minute of qualification in this cycle. His time hasn’t been without shaky moments, but Gonzalez has been a serviceable and occasionally exceptional (think Mexico) center back.

That’s part of the process for a 24-year-old who could be in the national team picture for years to come if he continues to elevate his game. Gaffes like the one in Honduras have been too common—he was victimized multiple times in a friendly against Belgium earlier this month—but his manager is giving him time to grow into the position.

“Well, that process is only going one step at a time, and we told players like Matt Besler and Omar that by growing, there will be some pain coming along,” Jurgen Klinsmann said at a news conference Monday. “There will be a bad game here and there. There will be a mistake. But (what’s) important is that we coaches see the potential in certain players and see where they can be one day. So we’re going to help them to develop and hopefully reach their maximum potential.

“I think in Omar and Matt and players like them, there’s so much improvement still there, so much they still have to learn, and they know they have to learn still a lot, but also for us, an exciting learning curve to be with. This is what coaches want to do. We want to develop high-quality, top players, and Matt and Omar have that talent to become real, real high-end center backs.”

Consistency is a buzzword around the national team camp, and Gonzalez has benefited from it in a couple forms. First, simply being with the team regularly has been a huge boon that has helped him grow in confidence. “My first time against Honduras was my first time meeting some of these guys, first time playing with these guys,” he said. “Now that we’ve had a few months together, the banter’s good, you feel the bond growing, and I think that’s the reason I feel the most comfortable.”

He’s also been able to bond to a center back partner in Besler. The Sporting Kansas City defender has been alongside Gonzalez for every qualifier since the 0-0 draw in Mexico, and the pair have learned on the job together like recent college grads. Having another relatively green defender has assisted Gonzalez in taking charge of the back line.

“You have to be able to really feel comfortable enough to get people in the right positions, to see things before they happen,” Gonzalez said. “It does take a lot of games to start seeing that and start feeling comfortable with that and also to build that leadership it just takes time as well.”

Another things Gonzalez has going for him? Some sage advice from a club teammate.

“I do talk to Landon quite a bit,” Gonzalez said. “Maybe before and after every game we exchange a few texts. He’s always been really helpful with that.”

With the advice of a U.S. legend and the patience of a manager hoping to see him develop into a bona fide star, Gonzalez has plenty going for him. The first step is a perfect game against the Honduras team that gave him his first bitter taste of international play.

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