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Following Copa America exclusion, Gonzalez ready to fight for USMNT spot

Photo by Trevor Ruszkowski/USA TODAY Sports
Photo by Trevor Ruszkowski/USA TODAY Sports

Throughout his career, Omar Gonzalez has seen several notable highs and several agonizing lows. He’s seen good games and bad games, great spells and poor spells. However, following a trying summer that saw him miss out on a major tournament, the defender is ready to step forward into another productive period with the U.S. Men’s National Team.

Gonzalez is back in the fold with the U.S. for a pair of crucial World Cup qualifiers after being excluded from the Copa America squad. The Pachuca defender could feature in Tuesday’s clash with Trinidad & Tobago, a match that could see his first appearance since a shocking 2-1 loss to Guatemala back in March. It was one of the USMNT’s worst efforts in recent memory, and a particularly bad performance for Gonzalez, who has been out of the U.S. lineup ever since.

With both John Brooks and Matt Besler out of the picture heading into the group stage finale, Gonzalez is among the more experienced options ready to step in against a dangerous Trinidad and Tobago attack led by veteran Kenwyne Jones.

“My mind frame is the same that I’ve had since coming into this camp: just be ready for anything,” Gonzalez said. “Coming into this camp, I knew that I wasn’t going to make it to the field against St. Vincent, and my mindset has been to come in, work hard, make it hard for the person that I’m playing against and just have a good attitude and be a good team player and go from there.  So far, it’s worked well. I felt good with the group, I’m happy to be back and everything is going well.

Gonzalez’s return to the group follows what was certainly a tough summer, even if it was a period that saw the centerback find plenty of joy away from the national team.

The Pachuca defender was among 40 players named to Jurgen Klinsmann’s pre-Copa America roster, but Gonzalez’s name was left off the final 24-player list heading into this summer’s premier tournament. Following three straight summers with the USMNT, Gonzalez was suddenly on the outside looking in as Klinsmann opted for a new crop of central defenders.

Just over a week after the USMNT roster was confirmed, Gonzalez reached a new height on the club level. After shining throughout the Liga MX season, Gonzalez led Pachuca to a two-legged victory over Monterrey in the Clausura final as he claimed yet another league crown following three MLS Cups with the LA Galaxy. The defender played all 90 minutes in both matches, helping Pachuca overcome a red card in the second leg to claim an unlikely Liga MX crown to add to his sterling club resume.

While his club career continued to trend upward, Gonzalez also benefited from a memorable moment off the field. The birth of the 27-year-old’s second daughter headlined what turned out to be a memorable summer, even if it was one spent away from the national team spotlight.

“There’s disappointment, but I also had some good things going on as well,” Gonzalez said. “I was able to be there for the birth of my second daughter, so good times all around. Obviously, you want to be at every camp with the national team and on the field representing your country, but it’s not always the case. You move on from it quickly and just do what you have to do. Here I am at the next camp and I’m really happy to be back.”

Heading into Tuesday’s match, Gonzalez is one of several centerbacks who could see game time. With Besler and Brooks gone, Geoff Cameron, Steve Birnbaum and Michael Orozco also remain options, as Klinsmann will require a bit of shuffling in the center of his defense.

Should he be selected to start, Gonzalez is more than ready to step in and contribute. It’s a chance to reclaim his spot on the national team, and Gonzalez is prepared to seize it after spending several months away.

“I would say that I’ve had maybe some better times a few years ago, but a better player? No,” Gonzalez said. “I think that I’m playing some of my best football right now where I’m at and now I just have to translate that into national team play.”


  1. I’d like to hope that all the players within the US Player Pool would try and challenge themselves as players and be willing to fight/compete for a chance to represent the USA.
    I don’t care what league they play in or what their background is….Cameron, Brooks, Gonzalez, Besler, Birnbaum, Alvarado, Miazga, CCV….it doesn’t matter. Whichever CBs prove themselves to be the best option at the position should be the player selected.
    When he was last given an opportunity, Gonzalez failed to distinguish himself. When Birnbaum was given a chance (against the same opponent) he performed well. If Gonzalez wants to reclaim his previous place as the #2 RCB within the pool he will have to show it at the club level and during training camps….or wait for injuries/illnesses to give him another opportunity. Yes the level of the league you play in matters….but if the difference between the level of play isn’t drastically different (Liga MX Vs. MLS isn’t greatly different) it’s really the only thing you can do.

  2. Yeah, we get get your sarcasm. Does it feel good to lack in depth reasoning skills and the ability to look at things from different angles?

    Whether you like it or not, the Liga MX is better than MLS. This is in terms of depth of quality players on each team and average technical ability of those players. However, simply being in a better league does not mean you are a better player than the guy who you are competing against. Sometimes players of lesser quality end up in better leagues and vice versa. Whereas that lesser quality player will improve if he plays regularly, that does not mean he is now or ever will be better than the higher quality player.

    • I agree. For many fans that post here on SBI how good a player is compared to another is completely determined by what league they play in. That of course is a bad way to look at it. So many different factors go into what league a player ends up in. Bedoya to me is the most obvious example. Some people consider France a top 4 league and since Bedoya was starting for a mid-table French team he got far more credit than he deserves for being a “good player”. Probably also unfair to say Bedoya was horrible when he couldn’t make it in the lackluster Scottish League. Focus on the players not what league they play in. We judge Jozy for his horrible stint at Sunderland but perhaps if he had gone to any other EPL team other than Sunderland the story would have been completely different. Pulisic is a good example. You gotta definitely give him credit for even being able to get on the field with Dortmund, but once he does its very easy for him to look good because of the players around him and because Dortmund will dominate possession against every Bundesliga team except for Munich. Because Pulisic sometimes plays for Dortmund in the Bundesliga I bet many of you would assume that he is already better than Zelalem and Green and Nagbe, etc. That simple “he plays for team A in League A so he must be better” logic. But it would be really interesting if players like Green and Zelalem and Nagbe, etc, were also at Dortmund, who would be the one playing? We will never know. It’s hard to compare players in different situations.

      P.S. Omar Gonzalez is better than every USMNT center defender other than Brooks and Cameron.

      • We know that Pulisic is better than them because the demand for the on the transfer market tells the truth.

        Two things.
        1)We do not have some special insight to soccer that scouts who are well paid to discover and evaluate talent don’t already have
        2)There are objective measures like pass completion rate, successful dribbles, key passes, hockey assists, assists, goals, recoveries and other metrics so we can know in isolation how productive a player is. Liverpool didn’t offer 13 million euros only to be rejected because Pulisic is just another youth international prospect coming up. The kid is obviously superior in many ways to everyone around him as a player already.

      • UCLA,

        I actually like Omar too. I rate him a step below Brooks and Cameron. When he is in his game, he is better than Besler. However, Besler has fewer swings than Omar.

        On another related note, we haave some serious depth at CB both in the current USMNT members (Besler (29), Cameron (31), Omar (27), Brooks (23), Orozco (30), Birnbaum (25), Tim Ream (28)) and up& coming USMNT professionals (Miazga (21), Ventura Alvarado (24), CCV (18)).

      • djdj123, I agree with some of what you said, but not everything. In regards to your comment: “There are objective measures like pass completion rate, successful dribbles, key passes, hockey assists, assists, goals, recoveries and other metrics so we can know in isolation how productive a player is”; that makes sense, but you have to remember that the comparisons do not work across leagues and even across teams. As I said earlier, you put Pulisic on the field with Dortmund, and then you put him on the field with a Sunderland or Rangers or even a Bundesliga bottom-feeder and his stats will be completely different. Every situation is unique. I guarantee you that Jozy Altidore would have scored more goals if he had been playing for Arsenal or Swansea or Everton rather than that horrible Sunderland team. That’s why using stats can be misleading. I have always been an eye-test guy when comparing or evaluating players.

        P.S. My point isn’t to say I don’t think Pulisic is good. I just used him as an example. My point is about using the leagues and teams players play in to decide how good they are.

      • In the past a lot of people discounted Omar, but I think your evaluation is correct. While at times he has been guilty of lapses in concentration, what to me is a good measure of his value is the WC game against Germany in 2014. He was a warrior in that game, making last ditch tackles several times. He probably saved one or two goals by himself.

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