By JOSE M. ROMERO
The big man in the middle has quietly become a star for the Los Angeles Galaxy, but there's one more thing for standout centerback Omar Gonzalez to achieve this season to go with his Defender of the Year and Best XI honors.
He needs to win the MLS Cup.
The MLS title eluded Gonzalez in his rookie season, 2009, when the Galaxy fell to Real Salt Lake in Seattle. Now L.A. gets another crack at it on their own pitch at the Home Depot Center Sunday night, and the central figure of the league's top defense will be among those front and center.
"Everyone wants it. We need that Cup this year," Gonzalez said Thursday after practice. "It has to be our year and everyone realizes it.
"If we show up the right way on that day, it's pretty hard for any team to beat us."
Gonzalez talked about winning this year's best defender award and credited teammates for helping the Galaxy post so many shutouts.
"I just wanted this to be sort of a breakout year for me and I wanted it to be one of my best and I think that I accomplished that," he said. "My third year around, I think my body's been coping with the season better and in the offseason I treated my body well, worked out, kept on training… Overall, I just was a lot better and I was a lot more consistent this year."
Gonzalez's form this year has earned him plenty of plaudits and awards, but it has not earned him a U.S. national team call-up under new U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann yet. It is a snub that led Gonzalez to state in recent months that he would be open to a call-up from Mexico, though he stated emphatically to SBI last month that his goal is to play for the United States.
"I'm not really worried about that right now," Gonzalez said of his national team future. "I'm worried about my team, the Galaxy, and I'm thinking about winning this game first and foremost and then what comes after that, I can handle it when it comes."
Handling the Dynamo is next, with its size and physical style. With that comes burly veteran Brian Ching, who has been on the big stage before, having won multiple MLS titles.
"He's just been great for many years and he can score goals from anywhere in the box, so we just have to keep an eye on him," Gonzalez said. "He's tough. Big guy, takes up a lot of space. It's very hard to get around him. Just got to make sure he doesn't give you that first bump."
While Gonzalez expects the Dynamo to attack, he added that the key to his own team's success is a defense-first mentality.
"Everyone's bought into what (coach) Bruce (Arena) has been selling, and that's get into our shape fast and defend with everybody from the forwards to the actual defense. Everyone knows their roles," he said.
Gonzalez's partnership with A.J. De La Garza will be key to the Galaxy's chances on Sunday, and it is a partnership the pair have honed since their days as centerback partners for the University of Maryland.
"I love playing back there with him," Gonzalez said of De La Garza. "He's very tenacious and hard-working and never gives up and I like those attributes in him."
"It's been probably what we've relied on the past three seasons," Arena said of his defense. "They've grown every game and every year."
A long journey, someone told Gonzalez.
"It has, and it's not done yet," he answered.