BRIAN SCIARETTA - Friday, January 15, 2010
One of the most anticipated young players in the January USMNT camp is LA Galaxy's central defender Omar Gonzalez who is reveling in the experience of seeking his first international appearance.
The reason for the excitement surrounding Gonzalez is that he is coming off an exceptional rookie season with Los Angeles. After leading the University of Maryland to the NCAA national championship in 2008, he instantly became regular starter for the Galaxy in 2009.
In his rookie season he helped lead his club, which had failed to make the playoffs in 2008, all the way to the MLS Cup where they lost to Real Salt Lake in a penalty shootout. For this, Gonzalez was named the 2009 MLS Rookie of the Year.
"It's been a very exciting and amazing year for me," Gonzalez told YA. "I've gotten to experience some things that not many players get to experience. I've started every game my first year. I got to play against Barcelona and Milan. The coaches and the Galaxy were just an amazing club to be a part of. I think I had a great year."
Gonzalez, 21, has clearly benefited as a player from being on the Galaxy. The club, which has four American players with World Cup experience, has proved to be a perfect environment for a young player beginning his career. The combination of experienced coaches and veteran leadership has provided Gonzalez with an opportunity to learn the game from people who have achieved success at the game's highest level.
"First it started off with Tony Sanneh," Gonzalez explained. "He sort of got me comfortable and calm in the back. Then Greg [Berhalter] came along and was more vocal and tried to get me more organized on the field and to basically just stay focused and keep the line. They both helped me a lot. Sean Franklin, coming off his rookie season, also gave me advice too. I think I was lucky to be on this team with such good veterans. "
While Gonzalez has achieved a great deal of success in 2009, he has also made some mistakes along the way that he has had to learn to overcome. These instances are typical for young players but Gonzalez feels as if he has learned from them and that they have made him better.
"I definitely made some huge mistakes with penalties in the first playoff game," Gonzalez recalled. "Everyone was very supportive and telling me it was my first game and that you now have it under your belt and not worry about it. I had to stay focused and play my game. I came out in the second game against Chivas and just improved a lot from my first game. Everyone was a lot of help. "
Later this month Gonzalez and the US national team will take on fellow World Cup qualifier Honduras in a friendly at the Home Depot Center in Carson California. A strong individual showing by Gonzalez could prove to be important to the US team as it moves forward towards the World Cup because injuries to key players have left the team short of defenders.
The most significant of these injuries is to first team starter Oguchi Onyewu who injured his knee in a World Cup Qualifier last October against Costa Rica. The 6-5 Gonzalez has been seen by some as a potential replacement if Onyewu is unable to regain his fitness in time for the World Cup.
"First and foremost, I hope [Onyewu] is getting healthy right now," the Dallas, Texas native stressed. "Hopefully he will get back because the team needs him. Secondly, I would love to be able to step in that roll if I get the opportunity. As for right now I am just keeping my head down and putting in the work and just trying to get better every day here. Hopefully the coaches will see enough in me."
While Gonzalez will look to help lead the Galaxy to their third MLS Cup in 2010, he does have future ambitions to someday play overseas in the world's highest leagues.
"I definitely have aspirations to be playing overseas," Gonzalez concluded. "But I think that I am happy I came to this league first just to get my feet wet and improve my game and be ready for when that time comes. "