Omar Gonzalez's aims for this World Cup changed when he felt a twinge in his knee in the LA Galaxy's road loss to the Colorado Rapids a couple of weeks before US national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann gathered his troops to begin preparations for Brazil.
After partnering with Sporting Kansas City's Matt Besler in central defense through most of 2013, the big Texan "had more of a goal that I want to be starting every game," he acknowledged in a teleconference with Los Angeles-area media on the eve of the Yanks' round-of-16 clash Tuesday against Belgium.
But the injury to his left knee, although minor, forced him to reappraise what he hoped to get out of his World Cup experience. He's taken a more selfless approach, and it made his opportunity to start in the USA's Group G finale against Germany all the more rewarding.
"With my injury, there was even a question of me not making the 23-man roster," Gonzalez said from Salvador, Brazil. "Right before the World Cup happened, all those goals went out the window, and I just wanted to get myself ready for whatever happened. I worked hard to make the 23-man roster, and then, after that, I worked hard to be whatever asset I can to this team."
He was quite the asset against Germany, stepping into the spot Geoff Cameron filled against Ghana and Portugal and producing a strong performance in a 1-0 defeat that helped get the Americans into the knockout stages.
It quieted much of the criticism Gonzalez has received following hot-and-cold performances for the US in the months leading up to the World Cup – not that he cared all that much about that.
“I'm not really worried about what people say out there," he said. "It's pretty telling how quickly people can go from talking crap, or criticizing, and then all of a sudden being in your corner if you have a good performance. My worry isn't what people are thinking, what I am staying focused on is my team, the 23 guys that are here, and my coaches, and all I have to worry about is what they think.
"As long as they feel that I am doing a great job, then I'm happy. One thing that I want to do is stay consistent. I'm coming off a good performance against Germany, and now I want to have another good performance against Belgium.”
Gonzalez, who also made a brief appearance at the end of the Portugal game, says he was "definitely surprised" when Klinsmann included him in the 11 against Germany.
"Jurgen wasn't making too many changes in the lead-up matches, and then we had two pretty good performances against Ghana and Portugal, so my mindset the whole time was if my name gets called, then I'll be ready," he said. "I wasn't worried too much about what are the coaches thinking or [wondering], 'Am I going to get called now, am I going to get called before the first game?' I was patient, I worked hard, and I am happy that my name got called and I just basically went out there and do what I do.”
Should Klinsmann call on him again, he hopes to provide "basically what I did last game: be mobile, provide cover for my other defenders."
Added Gonzalez: "I think we want to be a bit more aggressive. I think that we were too late to getting to the German guys the last game, and we want to make sure to not let them have too much possession. If they do have possession, then not make it easy for them."
Dealing with Belgium's dynamic attack isn't going to be simple.
“Their movement is very good up top, and it's going to be very challenging for us, but as long as we can keep them in front of us and give support to our wide guys when they have [Eden] Hazard or [Dries] Mertens coming at them," Gonzalez said. "Just provide support so that we don't get a lot of one-vs.-one out wide. And if they do get a one-vs.-one out wide, we need to be sure to follow runners inside the box, because they have some big guys who can definitely get to the ball.”