TORRANCE, Calif. – Omar Gonzalez has been pegged for US national team stardom for some time. This month, the towering LA Galaxy center back finally will get a chance to show Jurgen Klinsmann what he can do.
Gonzalez, who has been a dominant defender in Major League Soccer the past three years, wants to make the most of his opportunity in the US camp that opened this week in Southern California, and he says he's ready to do so.
“I'd like to be a person where he thinks that I can play in these [upcoming World Cup] qualifiers and have a huge impact on this team,” said Gonzalez, a former MLS Rookie of the Year and, most recently, the MVP of LA's MLS Cup triumph last month. “I've just got to give it my all and play like I would day in and day out and not give [Klinsmann] a reason not to put me on the field. ... I just have to remember to be confident, not be timid, just play the way I know how, and I think I'll be fine.”
Gonzalez, 24, has made just two international appearances, going the distance against Brazil in the Americans' first post-World Cup match in August 2010 and playing the first half against Chile during the annual January camp two years ago. Klinsmann called him in last January, but Gonzalez pulled out to join FC Nürnberg on trial, then tore his ACL during his first training session with the Bundesliga club.
He was out until July, but then played a huge role as the Galaxy bounced back from a poor start to the MLS season to win their second straight league championship.
“We were waiting for him quite a while,” Klinsmann said. “He had his injury, came back and had to wait a long time before he was fit again, and he played a tremendous second half of the season. We're excited he's finally in the camp.
“We want him just to prove his point,” Klinsmann added. “We want him to understand that there's another level waiting for him, that he has to work for that level and that he has to develop a confidence and personality to get to the international level. We are curious – you know, there is no pressure on him. We help in that process.”
The 6-foot-5 Gonzalez says he knows he can adapt to the pace and intensity of the international game, and if he needs an example of what can happen, he need only consider Geoff Cameron, who emerged during last year's January camp and started four of six qualifiers during CONCACAF's semifinal round of World Cup eliminations.
“He's done well with the opportunity he's been given,” Gonzalez noted, “and sure, you know, I'd like to step into January camp and see my career take off as well.”
It didn't happen for him under Bob Bradley, and last year's injury prevented him from getting an opportunity under Klinsmann until now. The injury taught him “to be patient and just worry about what I can control. That's the way I am now, that's where I'm at, at this time of my life. I'm in the now.”
And, Gonzalez says, he is ready.
“I'm at a point now I'm one year out of my injury, and I'm feeling good,” he said. “I've just got to worry about my soccer side and get that right and work on my defending even more and get that solid. I think I'll be fine.”