By Clemente Lisi – Carson, CA (Dec 3, 2012) US Soccer Players – Attacking firepower is a hallmark of the Los Angeles Galaxy. Yet, was Omar Gonzalez, a defender, who made the difference when it mattered most this past Saturday in the MLS Cup Final against the Houston Dynamo. It was Gonzalez’s header that put the Galaxy back on the comeback trail, giving him and the team back-to-back titles.
“I remember that the ball came into my direction,” Gonzalez recalled in the locker room after the game. “That’s when I saw the ball and decided to give it a knock. I got over my guy and put the ball in. I couldn’t believe it was happening to me.”
“That knock” – as Gonzalez put it – resulted in the ball getting past Dynamo goalkeeper Tally Hall to tie the score. By the time the game was over, the Galaxy had triumphed 3-1 with Gonzalez accepting the MLS Cup Most Valuable Player trophy. Gonzalez was one of the first players the coaching staff hugged once all the players were in the locker room.
At 6-foot-5, Gonzalez is a lean, but imposing player. He looks as if he should be playing for the Los Angeles Lakers. Instead, as the Galaxy’s center back, the 24-year-old spent the season commanding a backline that was responsible for helping the team go all the way. After the game, coach Bruce Arena heaped praise on Gonzalez, calling him the League’s “best center back” and a player who “belongs on the National Team” – a message to USA coach Jurgen Klinsmann who was sitting in the stands at The Home Depot Center. Gonzalez has just two caps to his credit but has put himself in position for regular call-ups after this season.
Gonzalez is a humble guy. He doesn’t like to talk about himself. Instead, Gonzalez credited Arena and his teammates – players like David Beckham, Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane in particular – for getting the Galaxy another title.
“We got off to a rough start (this season),” he said. “Then the guys got us focused again. We started to fight for each other. We were playing like a team again. I don’t think anyone thought we’d get this far, but we always believed in ourselves.”
Gonzalez added, “I think players like Beckham, Landon and Robbie Keane make me a better player. I’ll miss David. We all will. It’s been a special year and it couldn’t have ended in a better way.”
The son of Mexican immigrants who grew up in Texas, Gonzalez has been part of the Galaxy starting lineup almost since the club selected him third overall in the first-round in the 2009 MLS SuperDraft. He followed that up by winning the Rookie of the Year Award and in 2011 was instrumental in helping the team to the title. He also won Defender of the Year in 2011. What made Gonzalez’s contribution special in this year’s final was how the past year had gone for him. Last January, he tore his ACL in training while on loan with German club FC Nurnberg. Gone were his winter loan spell and the opportunity to shine in Europe. What followed were months of intense rehab and a return to MLS in early July.
Gonzalez’s return to the field coincided with the Galaxy’s improved play in the last two months of the regular season and later playoffs. He improved a sometimes shaky Galaxy defense, giving them stability and confidence at the back. In other words, he did what LA expects from him.
As for his performance in the final, Gonzalez called the Dynamo a “tough team” who tried to put pressure on his team all afternoon. On giving up the lead, Gonzalez said, “We did a poor job covering the back on that play. That was our only real mistake.”
“They know how to make runs and use the flanks,” he added, referring to Houston players like Will Bruin and Calen Carr. “We tried to make sure and keep them in front of us, where we could see them, and cut off those runs. That is how we stopped them.”
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