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Gonzalez overcomes early hiccup, nerves to help USMNT reach next round


Photo by John Todd/


RECIFE, Brazil — When the U.S. Men’s National Team camp began in May, one of the biggest concerns among fans and media was how Omar Gonzalez would fare at the World Cup. There were fears that he would struggle against the elite competition the Americans would face in Brazil, and a left knee injury sustained just before the camp got underway made things worse.

Gonzalez eased those fears a bit on Thursday afternoon, as he turned in a strong showing against Germany in the first World Cup start of his career.

Gonzalez was a surprise starter in Jurgen Klinsmann’s lineup for the Group G finale at a rainy Arena Pernambuco, filling in for the same centerback that took his starting spot at the beginning of the camp. Geoff Cameron had gotten the nod in each of the U.S.’s last fives games prior to Thursday, but his struggles and the accumulated fatigue from playing in the Americans’ first two World Cup games opened the door for Gonzalez to play in the match that helped the U.S. reach the Round of 16.

“Well, everyone is so important in our group and we wanted to give (Cameron) a break and we don’t kind of have the luxury to say that all the players they’re going to go every four days in games and always on the highest level,” said Klinsmann. “Having Omar coming now in, getting his game and kind of really kick starts his tournament now is for us very important because down the road we will have always have these players coming in and they’ve got to do their job.

“We were sure with Omar coming in now, he was ready. He worked so hard for the five, six weeks we’re in camp now and he was ready for it and he showed that on the field.”

While Gonzalez was indeed solid against Germany’s cast of talented attackers, he got off to a somewhat slow start in the match. He looked shaky on the slew of crosses that were whipped in during the opening 20 minutes, even whiffing on a clearance attempt on a low ball played in from the right.

The 6-foot-4 Gonzalez settled in after that rough opening and came up with two timely sliding tackles in a matter of moments that thwarted two promising German attacks from ending with shots on goal. Truth be told, the U.S. could’ve been down early or by more if not for the play of the veteran centerback, who looked a lot more like the player who shone last year than the one who has drawn much criticism in 2014.

“I felt like I was pretty solid today,” said Gonzalez. “I did my job and lately I haven’t been getting much luck since the very beginning of camp with my little injury, but I’ve always said that I was going to stay ready and I got my opportunity today. I’m just happy that I could step on the field and do whatever I could to help this team go through.”

There were a couple of plays in which Gonzalez admittedly could have done better. Two rather simple bouncing balls gave him trouble near midfield, but he recovered well and did not allow them to throw him off his game. He continued to have a short memory and focused on the next play instead of dwelling on the ones that did not go his way.

“I’m not going to perfect,” said Gonzalez. “No one’s comfortable out on that field. It’s the way that I’ve got to manage with being uncomfortable. After that little hiccup (early on), all of my clearances were pretty good and the next thing I’ve got to fix is not letting the ball bounce in the midfield. Hopefully, I can get that one out first.”

Gonzalez and centerback partner Matt Besler did such a good job for much of their 90-minute shifts that Germany had very few clear chances from the run of play. They both snuffed out several attacks and neither could do much about Thomas Muller’s gorgeous game-winning curler in the 55th minute.

It was the type of collective performance that U.S. fans had seen on several occasions in 2013 – when Gonzalez and Besler started side by side in big games like a scoreless World Cup qualifying draw vs. Mexico at Estadio Azteca – and came with Gonzalez fighting some expected jitters.

“My first 90 minutes in a World Cup, there was a lot of emotions there, there were a lot of things going through my head,” said Gonzalez. “But I just wanted to take it one play at a time and just move on from there and if I did mess up, focus on the next play. I was just focused on doing my job and helping this team.”

Gonzalez’s performance will likely lead to talk that he should once again start next to Besler in the heart of the U.S. defense when the Americans lock horns with another talented squad in Belgium in the Round of 16 on July 1 in Salvador.

Klinsmann will ultimately have to make the decision and could very well stick with the more technical Cameron, but Gonzalez did enough against the likes of Muller and Mesut Ozil to at least merit consideration for another start.

“He got thrown into the firing line, but he did well, had some good clearances, read the game well,” said goalkeeper Tim Howard. “It was just about managing it. Between him and Matty trying to manage the back line and the guys in front of them and really not allow Germany to open up and get in a flow. Overall, I think it was good.”


  1. Backs and defenders in general must concentrate 100% the whole game. As simple as that sounds, it is very hard to do in practice. Tim Ream, Gonzo and a great number of others have been exposed by being inattentive or careless for a few seconds. The needed concentration often comes with increasing maturity. Given Ream’s recent success and Gonzo’s in the Germany game we can hope that is the case (but I think it takes more than one game to prove that the concentration has actually improved significantly).

    • “but I think it takes more than one game to prove that the concentration has actually improved significantly)”

      Even if a defender’s concentration is proven to be significantly improved , it is impossible to prove that any defender, regardless of ability, age and experience will concentrate 100% for the entire length of a given game.

      Attacking players can literally do nothing else all game and miss 9 out of 10 chances but that 1 chance can be the one that wins the game.

      Every defender even the very best, sooner or later, makes unexplainable mistakes that cost his team the game.

      That is the nature of the position and the nature of the game. Both Gonzo and Cameron are famous with US fans for making awful errors while playing center back.

      In this World Cup so far, Gonzo has proven luckier than Cameron at avoiding the brain fart.

  2. He didn’t overcome anything. The difference against Germany is that he had the rest of the team helping him do his job. If we would’ve attacked Germany he would’ve gotten shredded.

  3. Love the idea of moving Cameron to holding mid for Beckerman, and leaving Gonzo in place. Beckerman, who I hate to criticize since no one ever saw him playing such a vital role in a WC, is limited, and its starting to show.

    Plugging in Cameron makes us a bigger threat to score and may not diminish us at all on the back line. Very intriguing.

  4. I too have been harsh on Gonzo but with good reason. To me he’s not consistent. He’ll have good games one night the next he’s no where. That what he’s lacking.

  5. Added bonus of Gonzo stepping it up is it frees Cameron up to provide depth at defensive MF. We only have 3 defensive MFs on the team and all three have gone 90 in 3 straight games.

  6. Omar played great yesterday. With a sloppy wet field Jürgen wanted to create an aerial game hence Omar and Davis. too bad we didnt take more from our corner opportunities but over all good, not great, game.

  7. USA stayed back for most of the game. I worry about Gonzalez playing in a more wide open game that require more speed and one on one play.

    • Gonzo is not physically slow. MLS is a very fast league so speed isn’t the issue with him. Gonzo’s problem is that his attention seems to flag in critical moments. Maybe the pressure of the WC will serve to focus him….he seems to do better in games that count. Hopefully Jurgen has a pshrink on the payroll to help him make a good roster decision.

    • he’s tough at the high line D, attacking the clearances and hold up players of the other team. I would say that’s when he’s at his best defending, cleaning up in the middle third behind the high line

  8. Notwithstanding that initial whiff, Gonzo did great, especially considering the opponent. I expect him to be even more confident and sure-footed next go around, and would not mind keeping him at CB, move Cameron out to RB (where he has played the most), and move Johnson up to RM.

    • Cameron coming off the bench might be more valuable than him starting at this point in the tourney. Since we are starting three center mids right now, he could sub in if one of them wore dorn or got injured, or be a replacement for basically anyone along the back line.

      • I don’t want Cameron coming off the bench because he has had a full week of rest and I don’t think we can afford to leave a rested player of quality on the bench.

  9. I was never a big fan of his until this performance. Though he struggled early with the noted hiccups he recovered well and made some wonderfully timed tackles.

    I think he has made a tough decision for Klinsi. With an arguably better performance at center back than Cameron, could we shift Cameron back out right or to his more natural holding midfield (off the bench for Beckerman). Obviously I don’t believe Cameron should replace FJ. With FJs attacking ability he could be freed up to move into the midfield. I just think this really opens up options and depth significantly both attacking and defensively.

    • An intriguing option might be to move Cameron up to MF, where he plays for Stoke. Too many dominos might fall, but he is solid up there, if we need him to be. Especially given injuries and cards. I am praying for JJ’s nose situation, but if we need to give JJ a rest such as in the 60th minute, Cameron can move up the pitch.

      • Cameron plays right back for Stoke, not midfield. I don’t recall him playing in midfield since the Panama game last year and using him there against Belgium makes no sense and won’t happen.

      • You’re right slow, re his Stoke role. I recall seeing him in MF where he performed ably before, but it was prolly in WCQ. My point is that we need options if we are going to play deep into July, and it’s good to know we have MF options, including GC, who is solid in MF too.

      • Raymon,

        Belgium is a knockout game. Win or go home.

        And you want to take the US’ best outfield player in this Tournament and replace him with a guy who has been somewhat inconsistent, because he once looked good a long time ago against those world beaters Panama.

        I love Geoff as much as anyone but he isn’t playing well right now.and to suggest he can replace the US’ best player is somewhat counterintuitive.

        You may hate JK but he has gotten the vast majority of his personnel decisions absolutely correct.

      • Well… his personnel decisions happened and we are where we are, but that doesn’t make them absolutely anything

    • Opps. Saying something similar to you above. FJ into the mid, Cameron into right back, Gonzo in defense. Improves nearly everything. FJ or Zuzi can go to the left…

  10. Frankly, i have always been a fan of his and thought his shortcomings were greatly exaggerated (and would nonetheless be mitigated through expereince). I’m glad to see he had a good game, as I’m glad to see another guy I’ve championed, Yedlin, have a postive impact.

    I’m not so sure that our best centerback pairing right now wouldn’t be ream and Gonzalaes (go ahead, mock me!) Gonzo is great in the air, and Ream is faster, left footed and a great distributor. (Nothing worng with Besler’s play, I just like this ocmbination of skills). I would not be surprised to see Yedilin, Ream and Gonzo forming 3/4 of our 2018 back line. Now if we can develop a left footed yedilin….

  11. I thought that Omar certainly played better against Germany than Cameron did against Portugal. Right now I’d rather see Omar start on Tuesday than Cameron. It will be interesting to see what Klinsi does.

    • How about moving Cameron to his club spot, right back, and pushing Johnson into a more attacking role> That would improve both defense and offense

      • I concur. I think that Alejandro is having a tough time out there right now and Fabian could do a better job in that position without sacrificing at right back. We need to find ways to get our best 11 out on the field. Of course, Klinsi seems to be pulling all the right strings right now so whatever he decides is good with me.

      • Or move Johnson to left back and get Beas off the field. He hasn’t broken yet, but every team so far has been trying to shove their attack through him.

        Actually moving Johnson is the more appealing to me. Most of the goals against have come down the right wing, not because Johnson can’t defend, but we know Cameron would tighten things up because he won’t make as many runs as Johnson does. Plus Johnson looked much better at midfield than he did at FB up until very recently.

      • Disagree completely. He’s been getting torched back there. All three teams knew it and went after his side. How many of our opponents’ crosses came through Beasley?

      • Beasly is doing fine, especially considering the amount he has been targeted. Also, the fact that Cameron would stay home more is an argument for not moving him to right back IMHO.

      • “Every team so far has been trying to shove their attack through” Beasley, and every team has failed. And your conclusion is “get him off the field”? Really? You may not find his performance pretty to watch, since he does get knocked around a bit, but he always recovers quickly and has been extremely effective. Couldn’t ask for more.

      • +1 Am I alone in thinking this might have been in the cards from the beginning as an option or wrinkle to throw in against teams perparing to play us in the knockout stages? Jozy’s injury blew up a lot of things, and but I’d always though particuarly after the Ghana coach’s comments about preparing for FJ on the right that there was an option out there to flip FJ to left side, even if only for a half.

        I don’t think it has to be about getting rid of Beas, just giving throwing out a different look that also plays to FJ’s experience and his encouraging understanding with MB/Duece/JA/JJ, all of whom can attack effectively from the right and left sided positions, primarily through the inside channels … Would be an easy and almost ready-built way to flip the attack provided we trust our CBs enough to slide Cameron to RB. Plus it would give Beas a breather– he will continue to be targeted although he has held up credibly thus far

      • Funny, I mentioned Cameron at RB and F Johnson at RMF last week and heard crickets…only now…only now I read people saying the same thing. No, Klinnsman is still playing players out of position like Cameron at CB and it backfired on him. Klinnsman continues these little experiments at the WC like he did in qualifying. Just not sure he can afford many more games ‘trying to get it right’.

      • Newsflash, MikeG. The US Men’s National Team has made it out of the “Group of Death” and into the Knockout Rounds at the 2014 World Cup. This, after many people thought they would lose 3 games and score 0 goals. I’m sure Klinssman can “afford” to do whatever he thinks gives the team the best chance to win.

      • Yes, when will jk finally play the four veteran, mistake free defenders he has at his disposal instead of these clowns who can only get results against the ghanas and portugals of the world.

      • Fabian has been arguably the best attacking right back in this World Cup.

        Why fix something that ain’t broke just so Cameron can get on the field?

    • I think everybody has been overly harsh with Omar for his previous gaffes and with Cameron for his a against Portugal. In case anybody hasn’t noticed, goals are being scored in buckets lately and for each one of those you can find a defender that is “at fault” Given how CONCACAF is doing in the world cup I think we have to view the 8 goals allowed during the hexagonal and as well as the 4 in the WC as a mammoth achievement that is a great credit to ALL of our defenders.

    • Last night doesn’t prove his critics wrong. Weak defenders are capable of decent-strong performances. Bornstein himself had a solid run of games in south africa.

      What omar proved is that we shouldn’t make grand declarations about how “player x will get torn apart.”

      Omar will continue making mistakes at roughly the same rate he always has. Some of those mistakes will lead to goals, some won’t.

      The same goes for cameron and besler. Not brooks though, he’ll get torn apart.


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