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On USMNT: Gonzalez an ideal starter at centerback vs. Mexico

Photo by Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Photo by Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

When Omar Gonzalez left the LA Galaxy for Pachuca last December, he was sad to leave everything behind in LA, but he was optimistic for the future.

Once Gonzalez quickly established himself as a consistent starter, en route to Pachuca winning the Clausura title in May 2016. The 28-year-old wanted to improve before moving to Mexico and he did exactly that just a few months later.

“Leaving is never easy and change can be difficult,” Gonzalez said in an open letter to the Galaxy fans. “However, this is an opportunity for me to continue to grow as a player and as a person.

“I’m growing as a player,” added Gonzalez. “To be honest, I think with [the] Galaxy, I maybe hit my plateau there. So being in a different league with new players, and a league that is so challenging — I think it was really important for me to take this next step, and I’m happy that I did it because it is a challenge playing here.”

The centerback seldom played for the U.S. Men’s National Team in his final year with the Galaxy, but he quickly earned recalls after solidifying his spot in Pachuca’s XI. Gonzalez most recently started in the USMNT’s 1-1 draw with New Zealand last month beside Matt Besler. Both defenders were the go-to partnership during the last World Cup qualifying cycle and were incredible, especially against Mexico at Estadio Azteca.

The U.S. will be missing the injured Geoff Cameron, which means the centerback spots are up in the air heading into the first matches of the Hexagonal phase of qualifying.

Given Gonzalez’s experience in Mexico and the fact that he is familiar with a few of the players, he would be an ideal candidate to start on Friday in Columbus.

The former Maryland Terrapin is teammates with the dangerous Hirving Lozano, plus there are 10 other Liga MX players on Mexico’s roster. It wouldn’t hurt to lean on a defender who has faced them before.

Mexico’s squad is predominantly made up of European-based players, which means coach Juan Carlos Osorio will likely field an XI that only contains one or two Liga MX players.

However, Gonzalez has also been successful against El Tri in the past. The defender has played in four matches against Mexico, recording two wins and two draws, which includes a 2-o victory in Columbus in Sept. 2013 during the Hex.

The important issue is who starts beside Gonzalez. John Brooks is in form with Hertha Berlin, but two taller and slower centerbacks could be tormented by a fast Mexican attack. Cameron Carter-Vickers is too inexperienced and has no chemistry with this current squad to be playing in a match of this magnitude. Besler is on the roster, so head coach Jurgen Klinsmann could go with the partnership that shut down Mexico at the Azteca in the last cycle. Steve Birnbaum is the only other feasible option as he is faster and can play with the ball at his feet.

Whoever Klinsmann decides to start on Friday, Gonzalez has to be the No. 1 option. His past success against Mexico and his familiarity with some of the players on the roster are two factors that will be hard to ignore.


  1. Are the forwards in the Bundesliga slow all of a sudden? Were the forwards at the Copa Centenario slow? Author’s reasoning leaves a lot to be desired. I’ve not seen Omar play recently, but he has historically been slow of foot, has mental lapses, and is horrible in distribution. I’m just not getting it…

  2. It’s Brooks and Gonzalez. Birnbaum hasn’t played in any meaningful international games yet. Omar has done very well in Mexico and had a great game vs. Germany in the WC, along with the games mentioned here. About 5 years ago I think he would have made it to the Bundesliga if Timmy Chandler hadn’t blown out Gonzalez’s knee in an exhibition game. Omar was MLS defender of the year and MVP for a finals game. I think some people discount him too much here.

    • If we actually want to play well tomorrow, and not win by hoofball/luck, our back line will need to control the ball and distribute to the midfield calmly. I’ve never seen Omar do that against meaningful competition. Maybe he’s picked up a thing or 2 since his move to Liga MX, but i’ve only ever seen clearances from him when under pressure, and the occasional deep “pass” that becomes a foot race and loss of possession. Brooks has all the qualities that Omar has, plus can play the ball at his feet and distribute under pressure. Birnbaum may not have had a start against meaningful competition, but at least he tries to play it out the back against teams like Argentina, and is much more mobile than Omar.

      Plus, its not like mexico plays with a huge hold up forward that needs to be out-muscled with 2 big CB’s.

  3. SBI is trolling us here right? I mean Gonzo is our number 1 CB option? The argument was literally Omar is familiar with many of the guys who won’t actually play so he should start over Brooks who is familiar with Hernandez and Fabian from the Bundesliga. Tomorrow’s story Chandler should start in place of Fabian because he has a Mexican player on his team, and no Mexicans play for Mochengladbach.

  4. I don’t think it’s a stretch to suggest that Peter Galindo should consider a different profession based on this outrageous article.

  5. As malkin states, no way does Gonzalez start over Brooks (our best CB in the pool and rapidly becoming the leader of the back line & defense). I don’t think it’s unrealistic to see the two starting next to one another, despite their size and lack of speed. I actually don’t think Brooks gets enough credit for his speed and athleticism.

    Personally, I’d prefer Brooks/Birnbaum or even Brooks/Besler (even though two lefties isn’t preferred by most managers around the world – including JK).

    • The only way John Brooks does not start this game is injury. The article claiming Gonzo is the first CB on the sheet is just silly.
      To your point of 2 lefty CBs…I havent been able to get a clear answer from anyone on this ever. Why can so many managers field 2 right footed centerbacks comfortably but you almost never see 2 lefties? There are plenty of stellar right footed LCBs. I really just dont get the trepidation in fielding a left footed RCB. I believe Besler is our third best CB and would like to see him get a shot with Brooks at some point. Klinsmann has had plenty of opportunities for this though so I don’t think its in the plans. I am personally expecting a Brooks/Birnbaum partnership tomorrow.
      Also don’t be shocked if Chandler is RB and Yedlin further up on the wing. Klinsmann has shown he really likes a hard working, athletic type on the outside. He was a huge fan of Zardes in that role.

  6. Brooks is possibily the best player on the entire roster. Gonzalez is the clear choice at rcb imo for all the reasons the article pointed out.

    Brooks-Gonzalez. Birnbaum, Besler, CCV, Orozco all second choice.

    How the fullbacks and midfield lineup is a much more complex debate


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