SBI MLS Spotlight

SBI MLS Spotlight: Nine months after ACL surgery, Gonzalez has sights set on another MLS Cup and a USMNT spot

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CARSON, Calif.– The small scar on Omar Gonzalez’s left knee might be easy to miss on his imposing 6-foot-5 frame, but it offers the Los Angeles Galaxy defender a constant reminder of just how much has changed for him and the Galaxy in the past year.

Tonight Gonzalez will lead the Galaxy into the Western Conference knockout round match against the Vancouver Whitecaps. The wild card game is a far cry from where the  Galaxy were a year ago at this time, when they were runaway Supporters Shield winners and heavy favorites to lift the MLS Cup.

A year ago at this time, Gonzalez was in the midst of the kind of run players dream of. He was dominating Major League Soccer as the best defender in the league, leading the stingiest defense in league history and preparing to win his first championship.

With everything going perfectly, Gonzalez couldn’t be blamed for starting to look ahead. To start thinking about Europe and making the jump that almost every MLS player dreams of making.

“My head was already in Europe, even before I went there,” Gonzalez admitted.

German Bundesliga club Nuremberg had a loan offer ready last January, all he needed to do was go on a short trial. He had been called in to the U.S. Men’s National Team camp around the same time, but decided to head to Germany to pursue a loan deal (a decision U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann agreed was the right one).

With his European dream so close to being a reality, Gonzalez agreed to jump right into training with Nuremberg even though it wasn’t something he had planned to do so quickly.

“I didn’t really want to train,” Gonzalez said when recounting how Nuremberg coaches asked him to start training on his first full day in Germany. “I just wanted to go over there and meet the guys, meet the coaches, but they insisted. If they put up the money they wanted to see me play and I decided to do it and it turned out the first day I wound up tearing my ACL.”

All it took was a seemingly harmless push from one-time U.S. national team teammate Timmy Chandler during Nuremberg training to lead Gonzalez to plant his leg awkwardly and suffer the first major injury of his career.

“I shouldn’t have trained,” Gonzalez said, with only the slightest tinge of regret in his voice. “I should have waited a couple more days. I should have been smarter about it. I don’t regret going at all. I just regret how everyone handled it. How I trained on the first day when I should have been  more vocal about relaxing.”

That decision, and that injury, changed everything for Gonzalez. Instead of playing in the Bundesliga on loan, and potentially staying there on a full transfer, Gonzalez took a painful and uncomfortable flight back from Germany to California to rehab and recover, and set a new course for his career.

Luckily for Gonzalez and the Galaxy, Gonzalez’s rehab went as well as he could have hoped, and saw the 6-foot-5 centerback on the field less than six months after surgery. His comeback came soon after the Galaxy had begun a mid-season rally after struggling badly to start the season. Gonzalez almost seemed to come back too soon from the injury, but he enjoyed a smooth transition back into the Galaxy lineup.

“His rehab was meticulous and he just kept progressing so everything went as well as you could ask for,” Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena said. “He’s been solid. He’s a little rusty obviously it’s going to take a little time.

“I’d like to believe he will keep progressing and be at his best in November, but he won’t be back to 100 percent until next year.”

Even at 90 to 95 percent, which is where he puts himself at these days, Gonzalez has been a force in the Galaxy defense. Though he has had some issues with regaining his full match fitness, Gonzalez has given the Galaxy the sort of dominant presence they so sorely missed in the first half of the season.

As impressive as his recovery was, it didn’t come quickly enough for Gonzalez to merit a national team call-up, though he did make the provisional roster. Gonzalez admitted to being disappointed at not being a part of the team’s recent World Cup qualifying matches, but he is also realistic about where he stands now.

“I want to be there, but I understand that I’m coming off injury, and I need some time,” Gonzalez said of being the national team. “I also know it was tough to try and come in when the games were so important (in World Cup qualifying in September and October). It’s tough to bring a new guy who hasn’t been in with the coach, who hasn’t been in with he guys.

“I’m still a little bit bummed that I didn’t get called in but it comes with it,” Gonzalez said. “You just have to keep working hard, and for me it’s getting back to where I was (before the injury), and I think even more than that it’s being better than I was.

“I think if I do that, then come the next camp maybe I’ll get called in.”

“There’s no question in my mind that once he’s back to a hundred percent he has to be a player in serious consideration for national team selection,” said Arena, the U.S. national team head coach from 1999 to 2006. “I believe he should have been in the national team selection last year. This year is a different story obviously, coming back from the injury.

“Last year he was probably the best centerback for U.S. Soccer and you need time with those young players when they first get capped it takes a little bit of time,” Arena said. “That learning curve is important and he’s lost that a little bit, which is disappointing.”

Gonzalez’s injury has cost him ground in the race to be the next generation of the U.S. national team defense. Geoff Cameron was ranked below Gonzalez a year ago, but in the time since then Cameron has stormed into the national team set-up and become a starter, all while securing a move to English Premier League side Stoke City. Sporting Kansas City’s Matt Besler has also emerged as a younger centerback option, having earned a place in recent national team camps.

“I give the guys all the respect in the world who made that progress,” Gonzalez said. “It was there time to go. my time got cut short because of this injury but I’d like to also take those steps. Maybe my path has taken a different route, but I still want to be the best one out there.

“I want to be better than all my peers. I want to be the best,” Gonzalez said. “You want to be the best you can be, the top guy, the guy that people call on for the national team. You want to make an impact and play for your country.

“Geoff Cameron is playing game in and game out and Matt Besler is playing great for Kansas City. He’s one of the staples of their back-line,” Gonzalez said. “It just makes it that much harder. You have to be on your game every day because those guys are doing it.”

Working against Gonzalez is his continuing fight to return to full health. He has had some minor knee issues since returning, including tweaks in both knees. He has been working hard to shake the rust off in time for the playoffs and believes his all-around game has improved throughout the rehabilitation process.

“I feel more confident on the ball, I feel like my passing and touch have gotten better,” Gonzalez said. “I think during my rehab I concentrated a lot on that. Now I just have to get back to where I was.

“What’s been tough is reading the game again, getting back to full speed,” Gonzalez said. “Just reading little plays that can make the biggest difference.

“I think I’ve improved from last year but now it’s just time to get everything right.”

Gonzalez will be hoping to finish the 2012 season on a strong not. Not just to impress U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann, but also to potentially attract interest again from potential suitors. He will be heading into the final year of his contract with the Galaxy in 2013 and has already made the decision not to re-sign with MLS before that contract expires.

“I’m going to play out this contract and then figure it out from there whether I sign with MLS, sign in Europe or sign in Mexico,” Gonzalez said. “It’s to be determined.

“It’s very exciting because it’s tough being stuck in this three-year contract with two option years,” Gonzalez said. “It’s awful. Guys have felt it before me. Guys like Stuart Holden. You’re just stuck in this contract and it seems like it goes on forever and you can’t wait to get out of it so you can control your own destiny.

“I feel like you just want to get what you’re worth,” Gonzalez added. “That first contract is always a little bit tough because you make progress and we’re getting better and better. It’s going to be fun to see what kind of options there are at the end of that.”

Gonzalez makes it clear that he isn’t spending time thinking about what lies ahead this winter, or about potential transfer moves this off-season. He has a championship to help his team defend, and a scar on his knee that serves as a clear reminder of the dangers of looking too far ahead.

“Last year was a problem because my head was already in Europe,” Gonzalez said. “Now I just have to worry about every single day and live in the moment, and just be happy every day where I am.”


  • boosted335

    Great story in the making, very quick recovery from a serious injury:

    I’m campaigning for a G. John – O. Gonzalez back-line for 2013 and beyond

    “Dominant Defense” is the slogan

    Oh and Fk T.Chanlder


      • 2-ot-six

        why no John, John? he’s been dominating in MLS for the past three+ years just like Omar..He’s also just as big but is faster and distributes better. How anyone can be a fan of Gonzalez game and not a fan of Johns’ is baffling.


      • John

        Ummm John hasn’t been the same since the Blackburn deal didn’t go through, I rather have Gonzalez over John any day.


  • 911

    Gonzalez’ injury, Donovan on the outside of the USMNT, Jozy’s snub, Adu’s snubs, playing Kyle Beckerman, Olympic qualifying, it’s all a conspiracy by the German FA, UEFA, and Klinsmann to prevent the USA from becoming a soccer powerhouse.


  • Pig ****

    Gonzalez is going to to do great, look forward to his performance tonight in the playoffs and potentially World Cup Qualifying 2014 next year.


  • eric

    @Ives great read but I wish you would have gotten some insight about the actual tackle from Chandler. Maybe you did and he declined to answer. I know a lot of people would like to hear his thoughts on it whether it was malicious or just a strong challenge.


    • Ives Galarcep

      I wrote seemingly harmless push and that’s pretty much what it was. It was a combination of push and poorly-planted leg. Wasn’t Timmy Chandler flying in studs up.


      • bottlcaps

        Using google translate, two different German articles referred to it as a hard tackle. One even referred to it as reckless. But ofter automatic translations sometimes misinterpret a nuance the article was trying to relate. Nevertheless, I was under the impression it was a hard tackle as opposed to a push. Perhaps Gonzales was pulling his punches in the case that Chandler does return to the US team. Having a reckless tackle that takes out a fellow USMNT rising star from a another potential USMNT player that has been less enthusiastic about playing for the US may not created, or hinder, a good chemistry that those playing on the same back line would need.


  • Justin

    I am surprised he is back from an ACL surgery this fast and that he is playing at such a high performance. I am 9 months out on my knee and I just barely started playing again. I am no professional, but I am not going to go at it full speed in on tackles. It messes with your head, I hope he keeps doing well. I am always worried that I am coming back to soon and going to hurt it like Rossi did, because I can’t afford another surgery.


    • solles

      I did mine around 7-8 years ago and it took me over a year to feel ok again, also no pro but medical tech has definitely advanced.


    • GW

      With all due respect, if you aren’t a pro athlete:

      1. Gonzo was probably in better condition than you when he first got hurt
      2. He probably received much better care and rehabilitation than you did.

      There are obviously limits but it’s a mistake to compare pro athletes to regular athletic people when it comes to injuries and recovery from them.


  • el paso tx wants NASL

    He is the next bocanegra with steroids- he is the centerback of US….. simple as that. Remember mexico has a nose on USA with mexican american players, which means mexico knows who’s hot n not


  • Iggy

    NIce Article. OG seems like a good guy and would be a good candidate for the national team. Time for him to replace gooch as the big dominant CD.


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  • Rick

    I am a big Bocca fan, but I imagine he is going to be way too slow for WC 2014. We need to get some new guys games ASAP.


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  • biff

    Nice to learn these things about Gonzalez and that he has dealt with the injury so well and is so focused on regaining his past form. I wish him luck and hope he can get a transfer to a good team in Europe (and please not Nurnberg). MLS should take note of his comments on the MLS contracts. I think more and more good players are going to avoid getting trapped in those contracts instead opt for lower leagues in Europe where they can make a lot more money and probably learn at a quicker rate.


  • biff

    Now for my rant…

    I have said numerous times on this board that something smelled fishy about Omar Gonzalez’s injury thanks to Timothy Chandler 30 minutes into the first practice in Turkey after the Christmas break. I still don’t fully understand how it happened, but the story above does give us a bit more understanding of the whole sad affair.

    Now we at least know that at least part of the problem was Timmy’s “ seemingly harmless push.” That does not give a full explanation of how it happened, whether or not a second player was involved (such as Gonzalez being shoved into the path of a second player coming in for tackle) or whether Timmy followed up with a tackle. But at least we now know that big-man Timmy was doing something he should not have been doing, such as a shove of the new player in training camp. I still very much doubt that Timmy did it maliciously, although anything is possible, but I have always suspected that Timmy might have been playing the big man on a Bundesliga team on the first day of practice with a new guy from MLS and was possibly a bit over-exuberant to show the MLS-er how Bundesliga players practice and got carried away, maybe horsing around, and maybe an unexpected shove and next thing you know Gonzalez is writhing in pain on the ground and ohhh-sh**.

    It is nice to learn that Gonzalez was not in favor of joining in practice two days after a long flight from LA and after 5 to 6 weeks of no practice with the Galaxy. That is some heavy duty jet-lag lack of fitness. Now we know that the Nurnberg coach and staff — a bunch of local yokels from the hinterland with no understanding or appreciation of Gonzalez’s situation after the long flight — totally screwed up and put pressure on Gonzalez to participate.


    • kmac014

      You know these kind of injuries are usually from non-contact or very little? it usually happens when a player plants and it gives out on him. the article even says he planted it awkwardly. ACL tears aren’t from someone flying in most of the time


    • Ives Galarcep

      He didn’t really snub the USMNT. He consulted with Klinsmann on what he should do and Klinsmann agreed that taking the chance of securing a move to Nuremberg made more sense than going to the January camp.


      • The Imperative Voice

        Except the thing to me is he’d campaigned in the press for that callup for months and then decided when presented both that and a loan opportunity that he’d rather pursue his club ambitions.

        I think the guy needs to truly live in the moment and let go of a little bit of the ambition. Eyes bigger than his stomach. Cause he’s already talking option years, move abroad, etc. When what I think he needs is a sustained period of domestic success, a solid US performance in a callup, and then we can start talking ambitions abroad and internationally.


  • The Imperative Voice

    Worth pointing out that Cameron and Holden stayed within their MLS team, got their NT foothold, and then made their European plunge. Personally I feel like Gonzo is re-writing the script a little, he was called in, but he was over-ambitious at both club and country levels, decided to do the Nuremburg loan instead, whammo, messed himself both ways. People are Chandler-critical but seem to miss the mutual irony of a player turning down a callup, or showing up and leaving, however you want to slice it.

    When I hear Arena say he has rust and the suggestion he’s working on match fitness, maybe his best callups are ahead of him. He’s campaigned for the US before and had an awkward spiral, why not wait til you are as back as you will get, then take your best shot.

    And when I hear this “play out my contract,” bit, same song second verse. Quit getting ahead of yourself.


  • Beto

    Great post! I think everyone is really excited about omar but he said it best : dont get ahead of realality.

    Side thought, the Galaxy are going to have some serious turnover in the next 1-3 years.. Sounds like Landon and Omar will be moving on, Beckham probably retiring, i assume a few others. Time to reload or just clone juninho a few times


  • Gary Page

    From what I’ve seen, Gonzalez seems better now than before the injury. In the game last night at least twice he took the ball from deep and dribbled all the way to the level of the other box because no one challenged him. His dribbling skills are much improved. He seems slimmer and a bit faster than before. I think he and Cameron could be the mainstays of the US national team defense for the next 8 to 10 years. Thanks for the article and much success to Gonzalez in the future. Would love to see him in Europe even though I’m a Galaxy fan.


    • atd

      I completely agree. It’s been really impressive how he used his layoff as an opportunity to round out facets of his game that were maybe a bit weaker before the injury. What great mental discipline the guy has.


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