24 Under 24 (2010): #2 Omar Gonzalez (LA Galaxy)

Is there any one player in MLS who has US national team fans salivating over Brazil 2014 more than Omar Gonzalez? The LA Galaxy defender is likely the future of the Americans’ back line, and that potential mixed with his All-Star accolades are more than enough to land the 21-year-old Gonzalez at No. 2 on our 24 Under 24 list.

Road to Stardom: Originally from Dallas, Gonzalez actually had some offensive chops during his prep days in Texas. But he blossomed defensively in college under Maryland coach Sasho Cirovski, and Gonzalez only added to the Terps’ line of recent USMNT talents Clarence Goodson and Maurice Edu. Maryland won the 2008 College Cup and Gonzalez was a first-team All-American during his last season there before he bolted for the pro ranks. The Galaxy promptly scooped him with the third overall pick in the 2009 MLS SuperDraft to help renovate their defensive group, and he went on to win the MLS Rookie of the Year.

Breakout Moment: Gonzalez gave Galaxy fans plenty to drool over in just his second regular season game, when he pounced on a Landon Donovan corner kick and nodded a header past Colorado goalkeeper Preston Burpo for his first career MLS goal in April 2009. The Rapids eventually rallied for a 3-2 win in part to some defensive miscues from the rookie center back, but the writing was on the wall early. Gonzalez was already a force to reckon with on set pieces then, and it’s likely to be one of his calling cards for years to come.

Omar Gonzalez

Player Breakdown: At 6-foot-5 and 210 pounds, Gonzalez fits the mold of an NFL tight end as well he does an MLS defender. But don’t be fooled, there are some brains to go with the brawn, and it’s Gonzalez’s patience and steady head which make him much more than just a hulking body in the back. He’ll need to work on his footwork and speedsters can certainly leave him in the dust, but he also has the invaluable commodity of learning some tricks from former US international Gregg Berhalter and playing for Bruce Arena, and he’s already logged his first US cap under the watchful eye of Bob Bradley. Personally he’s level-headed and incredibly marketable, making him a potential future face of both the Galaxy and the US team in the coming years.

What the Technical Directors Say: “Omar’s got all the physical traits that you would look for from a big, big center back. Dominant in the air. Not only in the run of play, but he provides stability defensively on set pieces. And he gives them an attacking edge when it comes to attacking set pieces as well… The one downside with Omar is that his decision-making needs to be a little bit quicker when he’s on the ball. That ability to turn and run with players at the international level, the elite athletes he’ll be running against … You need to take a closer look at him against better competition but he has shown that he’s an elite defender as a youngster.”

What’s Next: It’s already been an impressive last 12 months for Gonzalez, who has played in the MLS Cup, the MLS All-Star game against Manchester United and for the US national team against Brazil. But even bigger things could be to come if European teams continue to invest in American beef (see Oguchi Onyewu) and Gonzalez can someday make the transition. He’s already proven his durability (he’s appeared in 55 of 57 games in his career), but he certainly has some fine-tuning to do in his future. For now he’ll look to pad his resume with a second straight appearance in the MLS playoffs next month, and perhaps some more US caps as he possibly teams with Onyewu or Goodson to lead the Americans through a defensive transition. Everyone in MLS is watching with bated breath.

Check back on Friday as the No. 1 player in the 24 Under 24 is unveiled.

 

What is the 24 Under 24? Simply, the best 24 players in MLS under the age of 24 (as of Nov. 1, 2010).

MLSsoccer.com whittled down the list to a group of 30 players and then an expert panel ranked the names based on five categories: (1) Skill; (2) Upside; (3) Q-Rating or Marketability; (4) Future Value; and (5) Intangibles.

The “24 Under 24” expert panel was made up of six members: Jeff Carlisle (ESPN.com), Steve Davis (SI.com), Brian Dunseth (Fox Soccer Channel), Allen Hopkins (ESPN), Alexi Lalas (ESPN) and the MLSsoccer.com editorial staff.

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2.Gonzalez, OmarD


MLS Technical Directors Say: “Omar’s got all the physical traits that you would look for from a big, big center back. Dominant in the air…You need to take a closer look at him against better competition but he has shown that he’s an elite defender as a youngster.”

3.Najar, AndyM


MLS Technical Directors Say: “Najar has a wonderful, elusive quality to him … [but] he still needs to figure out how to ride challenges better. That’s not to say the kid isn’t tough.”

4.Zakuani, SteveF


MLS Technical Directors Say: “He’s got the pace, he can get around guys and use his right foot, also decent with his left … Look for more consistency when he gets to the end line and has to use his left foot to pick out guys and make passes … Needs to work on being a factor for the entire 90 minutes.”

5.Mwanga, DannyF


MLS Technical Directors Say: “He has the potential to be one of the best strikers in the league … Off the ball running and finishing are much better than anticipated … He’s composed in front of goal, he can strike the ball well … He needs to work on his passing and getting others involved in the game.”

6.Pappa, MarcoM


MLS Technical Directors Say: “Really technical with great skill … Has good vision for the game and he can find a splitting pass and can change a game getting by a guy … He’s not going to run you up and down … Plays a lot older than his age … If he played more defense he’d be a more effective player and he’d be around the ball more often and in position more often to take advantage of quick breaks.”

7.Shea, BrekM


MLS Technical Directors Say: “Great size, good engine and brave with the ball … Very good technical ability especially for his height … He’s matured in a comfortable environment, you’re seeing the talent blossom … Having more of an impact on games … Big and fast and left-footed and attacking. You’d kill for that package in anybody, anywhere at any age.”

8.Johnson, SeanGK


MLS Technical Directors Say: “His athleticism in terms of being a shot-stopper is very good. Where he’s going to need to show improvement is the tactical end with his positioning and when to come out of the goal … With more experience will learn to read the game, direct his back line and know positionally where to be when the ball is in different parts of the field.”

9.Ream, TimD


MLS Technical Directors Say: “Composed and good in the air … Comfortable on the ball, a very good passer of the ball and a playmaker out of the back … The mistakes he’s made they don’t live with him. … Needs to improve on ability to turn and make quicker decisions … Has to smell danger and learn to whack balls up the field when he needs to and not make passes that aren’t there.”

10.Braun, JustinF


MLS Technical Directors Say: “He’s got a great body for the position as a target forward … Very active and very good in the air and once you get him going forward … Needs to improve on erratic finishing, playing with his back to goal and getting his teammates involved with the passing … He’s a young kid and has a lot of upside.”

11.Opara, IkeD


MLS Technical Directors Say: "He is still raw but an excellent athlete ... Tremendous upside ... can dominate in the air, good timing in the air ... He's able to outrun mistakes ... From a man-marking situation few can physically beat him ... Needs to work on ability to play out of tight spaces, make passes and make quick decisions."

12.Smith, RyanM


MLS Technical Directors Say: "Talented player, technically gifted with both feet, has pace, the ability to serve balls on the run … Needs to find some kind of consistency to be regarded as an elite player in this league … Has 50 different moves on the dribble … Needs to find when the best time to dribble and when the best time to find a teammate."

13.Bowen, TristanF


MLS Technical Directors Say: "He’s got a lot of good tools … Very good athlete and technically better than people give him credit. He can take people off the dribble. He’s a good finisher with both feet … Needs to get better with his head and holding the ball up… He’s going to be a very solid MLS player."

14.Hamid, BillGK


MLS Technical Directors Say: “He’s clearly got the tools and he seems to have got some poise … He can be a really successful goalkeeper in this league for a long time if he can get healthy and stay healthy. Young guys have persistent injury problems.”

15.Rogers, RobbieM


MLS Technical Directors Say: “He’s left-footed, he has pace and he’s American. These are players to be celebrated … Needs to be tougher and defend more … He’s one of those players that will stretch a defense. He has a good engine … He needs to demand the ball a little bit more and get more involved in 90 minutes.”

16.Tchani, TonyM


MLS Technical Directors Say: "Tchani is still very raw ... One of the best players in college last year. An amazing athlete. Huge, massive upside. Almost unlimited potential but he is not very polished which is normal for a kid at that age."

17.Bunbury, TealF


MLS Technical Directors Say: "He’s got the size, the physicality. He’s better than some in terms of technical abilities and he’s got some more size. And he’s probably got some more pace than most guys ... It needs to be consistency with him around the goal area. He’s got the tools physically and technically. He’s above average."

18.Pontius, ChrisF


MLS Technical Directors Say: "In our league he’s got to be a forward ... You want him in and around the goal to profit from that athleticism and ability in the air. For a young player, he’s a decent finisher which is relatively rare. He’s a prototypical college player in that he’s a tremendous overall athlete and he works really hard."

19."Juninho"M


The Brazilian is a vital cog for the Galaxy, pulling the strings in central midfield and jumpstarting their deadly counter. He reads the game well and has a knack of being in the right place at the right time. He’s not the strongest and most imposing of central players but his presence is felt as LA can attest during his recent absence.

20.Johnson, WillM


MLS Technical Directors Say: "A fantastic player, he’s got a great engine. Technically very good. He’s a fantastic two-way player, one of the best in the league even though he’s a young player from an age standpoint ... He needs to be a little bit more productive on the attacking side of the ball: assists and goals ... You’re looking for an 8-and-8 guy. His production needs to be better."

21.Alston, KevinD


MLS Technical Directors Say: “Has very good concentration, he’s brave and he has elite athleticism … He can get forward with that athleticism but he needs to refine his game in the attacking third in his one-v-one play and his combination play … he needs a little more consistency on his final pass.”

22.McInerney, JackF


MLS Technical Directors Say: “Like his mentality. He’s always busy, always in motion … His size is a factor but he makes up for it with this work rate and his ability in the air … His finishing is very good … He needs to manage his own expectations and he’ll find his way in MLS.”

23.Torres, RogerM

The young Colombian wowed fans with his ball skills early on, but he has since lost his place in the Union starting lineup and has become an occasional sub. He possesses superior vision and technique but there are doubts whether his speed and physique can meet the demands of MLS.

24.McCarty, DaxM


A full 2010 season may have bumped up McCarty’s place in the rankings. After a promising start in central midfield alongside Daniel Hernandez, he fell to a quad injury and now has an uphill battle just to regain his spot in the FCD starting lineup.