By ADAM SERRANO
CARSON, Calif. — Omar Gonzalez has every reason to be optimistic.
The 2011 MLS Defender of the Year's recovery process has been going well and Gonzalez has trained fully with the club for the past two weeks. On Monday afternoon, Gonzalez bypassed yet another hurdle as he went 45 minutes with a Galaxy reserve squad in a scrimmage against the club's Under-18 side.
In the scrimmage, Gonzalez did not show any of the signs of a player that underwent surgery for torn knee ligaments in January as he was active. He instead showed flashes of the Gonzalez of old.
"Today was just to see how I am and how my fitness is coming along," said Gonzalez. "I got a little bit tired towards the end, but we’re playing against our academy so I didn’t have to get up for a lot of headers or do a lot of defending so for the most part, I think I did well, but I wasn’t really tested so all in all, I’d say it was a pretty good day."
Since undergoing surgery to repair a torn ACL in his left knee in January, Gonzalez's recovery has been a steady one. For the first three-and-a-half months, Gonzalez was apart from the team while he underwent physical therapy. Following Monday's scrimmage, Gonzalez admitted that his time away from the Galaxy was "a bit of fresh air" and responsible for igniting a greater fire within him that has helped him as he makes his return.
His initial prognosis placed his return at seven to nine months, but with 45 minutes under his belt, Gonzalez expects that he may re-take his place in the Galaxy back four sooner rather than later.
“It is a moving target. We still don’t know yet,” Gonzalez said. “At the end of this month or early next month is my goal. But you never know, maybe I’ll surprise you guys.”
While a surprise return is a possibility, Gonzalez's teammates believe that he'll only return when he's fully ready to contribute.
"I think that the last thing that you want to do is wait for a guy six months and rush him one or two weeks so I’m hopeful," said Landon Donovan. "I don’t know anything about the medicine side of it and I’m not a coach, but our guys will make sure that it’s handled in the right way and he won’t be back too soon so something else happens. "
Although the 23-year-old has been extremely pleased with his recovery process, he was not immune to the mental barriers that are apparent with all players who recover from a serious injury. Gonzalez admitted to reporters on Monday that he has eased into tackles at times and can sense his teammates are doing the same with him, which he believes has been invaluable as he regains his confidence on the field.
While the club is being extra careful with Gonzalez as he makes his return, it did not prevent one scary moment in training last week.
"I had one scare last week when Clarence [Seedorf] was here, he took a shot and I tried to block it and it twisted my foot and my knee," said Gonzalez. "That was actually a good little scare because it made me feel like my knee is good, my knee is ready and the next day when I came out I had a great day."
With his knee feeling better and better, it is unlikely that the Gonzalez’s teammates will need to show restraint in training for much longer. And Gonzalez admits that when he's ready, he'll let his teammates known in his own special way.
"I’ll just crack them," he said with a smirk.