From afar, odd-man-out Gonzalez watches US struggles

CARSON, Calif. — While the US national team struggled defensively against Panama in the Gold Cup, one of the top young American defenders was powerless to do anything about it.

As US coach Bob Bradley tries to account for a central defense pairing that yielded two goals to Panama in a 2-1 defeat on the weekend, he won’t be able to insert LA Galaxy regular Omar Gonzalez.

The big centerback was left off the US Gold Cup roster despite his standout play in MLS this season and, really, since joining the league in 2009.

“I understand. He wanted to bring some veteran players and he brought some young guys as well,” Gonzalez said. “For me, I didn’t make it. Fine. I’ve got to play well with my club team, the Galaxy, and keep on performing here.”

Falling short of his own expectations should only serve as more motivation to continue working on his game.

“Life goes on. He has to keep proving himself,” teammate and former US international Gregg Berhalter said. “It’s a situation where he knows he’s making progress but it wasn’t enough right now. He’s confident in his ability that he knows he’s going to get there. We’re all confident in him as well.”

After taking part in the national team’s training camp in January at the Home Depot Center, Gonzalez played in a friendly against Chile and then aimed to make the Gold Cup squad.

He missed the first three games of the MLS season with injury but has since performed admirably. He has anchored the back line since playing his first game, on April 2 against Philadelphia and in that stretch, the Galaxy have yielded nine goals.

“I’ve been going into each game with a certain confidence and I think I’ve done better with leading the team and just being really confident back there and composed,” Gonzalez said. “I’ve done better with the ball passing out of the back and I think everything is going great right now.”

Until Toronto FC scored on the Galaxy in Saturday’s 2-2 draw, the Galaxy’s defense had been on an impressive streak. Toronto’s first goal snapped a 478-minute scoreless streak, a mark that was second-best in LA’s history.

But international fortunes, like momentum in a tight game, shift swiftly.

“Things go quickly, especially with the national team,” Berhalter said. “You go in there, play a good game and then all of the sudden you are a national team player. Anything can happen.”

Gonzalez said his next goal is to be on the US squad during World Cup qualifying matches. He could be on a path towards locking down a spot if his play with the Galaxy continues to improve, and with the struggles American central defenders such as Oguchi Onyewu, Clarence Goodson and Tim Ream have shown in recent games, the door to the US squad may open soon enough.

“He knows what he needs to improve on and he works on that,” Berhalter said. “He had conversations with the coach so he knows where the coach is coming from and I think that in his future it will be there. Now is just not the right moment. At the end of the day, as long as he’s doing well here he’s always going to be in the picture.”

Ultimately, Gonzalez said his goal is to make the US World Cup team in 2014. While being away from the team now may not be the best scenario, he has time.

“There are still three years left,” he said. “It didn’t happen this time around but it doesn’t really matter. You just have to worry about improving every single day, and next time I can’t give him a reason to say no to me.”