MONTERREY, Mexico – It may have been too little, too late for the LA Galaxy in their 1-0 loss to Monterrey on Wednesday night, but the second leg of the CONCACAF Champions League semifinals provided yet another platform for up-and-coming Galaxy defender Omar Gonzalez to show off his wares – and earn a bit of redemption.
Gonzalez, caught ball-watching on the killer second goal in the team’s 2-1 first leg home defeat – which the Galaxy admitted after Wednesday’s game may well have killed off the series – was by most accounts LA's best player on a night where their offense struggled to get going.
“Omar was very good tonight, a much-improved performance,” Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena enthused. “He could use this competition as a means of growing as a player and hopefully learn something from last week and tonight he was excellent.”
Galaxy star Landon Donovan echoed his coach’s sentiments, and lamented his side’s play on the other end of the field as the primary reason for LA’s tough result.
“I thought Omar was fantastic, and that’s what we needed from him and unfortunately, we didn’t do our job on the other end of the field,” the forward told reporters after the game. "But I thought he was great."
Gonzalez, cheered on by 50 family members in the city his parents call home, was reluctant to compare Wednesday night’s game to his performance in the first leg, simply admitting, "My goal was to put in a solid 90 minutes tonight, and I thought I did a good job and it was really tough to play here tonight."
The stats and the video, however, speak for themselves.
The towering defender, two weeks removed from a man-of-the-match performance for the US national team at Mexico’s Estadio Azteca, finished the game with an impressive 11 interceptions and a co-team-leading three tackles won, and even had the Galaxy’s best chance of the game, a close-range hit following a corner kick that Monterrey ‘keeper Juan de Díos Ibarra did very well to keep out.
The highlight-reel moments of the game for Gonzalez, though, came as Monterrey tore out of the gate in the second half. In the 52nd minute, he timed a sliding tackle to perfection on Monterrey striker Aldo de Nigris, who would’ve otherwise had a clear look at goal from within the six-yard box.
And just five minutes later, he went step-for-step with de Nigris’ equally formidable strike partner, Humberto Suazo, who twirled and danced, but couldn’t shake Gonzalez in the area, losing the ball to the LA Galaxy defender as he tried to cut past from the byline.
Gonzalez agreed with his coach’s assessment that going up against the likes of Suazo and de Nigris in the competition could very well play a crucial role of not only his progress, but that of his team.
“Those guys are quality players in their league, week in, week out,” he said. “For us, going up against the champions, it’s important for us to take this and learn from it, and I think moving forward we’re going to do a lot better with this.”