Return of LA Galaxy defender Omar Gonzalez has backline playing at highest level yet
CARSON, Calif. – Omar Gonzalez slipped effortlessly onto the LA Galaxy's backline this week, just like he hadn't been gone for three months, and the Seattle Sounders had barely a sniff at goal.
That wasn't all his doing, of course, but Gonzalez's return from a World Cup ankle injury was a huge boost for the Galaxy, who put together their best performance in ages in Monday's victory and now have a date Saturday morning with the Portland Timbers (2:30 pm ET, NBC, live stream on NBCSports.com, TSN in Canada).
"You know, it's been maybe, like, three months since I've worn the Galaxy jersey and been out there with my teammates," Gonzalez said after LA's 3-0 romp in Seattle. "Some coming out here was just a great feeling, and getting three points and doing it in the fashion we did was just amazing."
Gonzalez, who had last played for LA in a May 3 loss at Colorado, missed 13 games – including two US Open clashes and the Manchester United friendly – with a knee injury, his World Cup assignment and a rolled right ankle from the United States' round-of-16 loss to Belgium.
The Galaxy used seven backline combinations during his absence, and his return might have brought together their best quartet, for the first time: Dan Gargan at right back, A.J. DeLaGarza next to Gonzalez in the middle, and Robbie Rogers, returning from a minor ankle ailment, on the left.
"I think we still need a little bit of work going forward," Gonzalez said. "I think there's some things we need to work on. But I thought we did well [against the Sounders]. Seattle didn't have much going; I don't think they had a shot until the [59th] minute. If we can keep on doing that, we're going to be in a good spot."
Head coach Bruce Arena acknowledged that the 6-foot-5 Gonzalez "played better than I anticipated," and captain Robbie Keane said his return was "very, very important."
"If you want to progress in this league, I think it's important that [in] most games you've had your best players on the field ...," Keane said. "He looked good. Especially coming back and playing on [artificial] turf – that's always difficult – but he came back and was solid back there with the rest of the players."
Landon Donovan said the Galaxy were a different team with Gonzalez.
"Omar does a lot of things," he said. "Obviously, his physical presence, but he's become such an excellent passer, and he's so calm on the ball, and he makes the right pass most of the time, he makes the right decision most of the time. Even if he gets under pressure and hit hits a long ball, he puts it in a good spot where it gets us out of pressure. He does all those little things well."
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Gonzalez impressed in World Cup starts against Germany and Belgium, and Donovan says the big Texan's confidence has soared.
"He got pushed a lot during the World Cup, and he came back very confident," Donovan said. "And even though he wasn't out here every day [while rehabbing his ankle injury], he was working hard and keeping himself fit.
"This was really an ideal game to get him back into, the way it worked out. He didn't have to run a lot, he didn't have to chase a lot, he didn't have to do a lot of emergency defending. It was pretty straightforward most of the week, and now he gets his fitness back, and we expect him to be even better against Portland."