Omar Gonzalez says Liga MX move "broadened my horizons," eyes USMNT return

Omar Gonzalez - US national team - USMNT

KANSAS CITY, Kan. – After just three weeks off, Omar Gonzalez is back in the familiar position of looking to help his club defend a title. This time, though, it's on the other side of the US-Mexico border.

Gonzalez, who won three MLS Cups and two Supporters’ Shield titles with the LA Galaxy from 2010-14, was sold to Liga MX side Pachuca last December. This past month, he helped Los Tuzos to the 2016 Clausura title with a 2-1 victory over Monterrey on May 29.

“I think it's broadened my horizons,” he told reporters on Tuesday, after Pachuca reconvened for their first training session and a 1-1 exhibition draw with Santos Laguna at Children's Mercy Park. “I'm growing as a player. To be honest, I think with Galaxy, I maybe hit my plateau there. So being in a different league with new players, and a league that is so challenging -- I think it was really important for me to take this next step, and I'm happy that I did it because it is a challenge playing here.

“I'm learning, and that's the most important part, right? When you're doing something, and you don't feel like you're just coasting. You're struggling a little bit, and the struggle's fun. It makes you be on top of your game. It makes you figure your way out of situations. You test yourself, and you get to see what you're made of.”

While his first months in Mexico saw success on the club level, they also came with disappointment for the US national team veteran.

Gonzalez, a mainstay of the Yanks' 2014 World Cup side, was left off Jurgen Klinsmann's roster for the Copa Centenario. Instead, Geoff Cameron started at the right center back's spot through the semifinals – Tuesday's 4-0 loss to Argentina.

Gonzalez said he didn't agree with the omission.

“I was very surprised,” he said. “I thought that I'd done enough to at least make the roster. I was very upset, but I respected Jurgen's decision. I told him, 'Thanks for the text message, but I'm going to worry about winning a championship,' and that's what I went and did.”

Still, seeing the Yanks reach the semifinals – even with their blowout loss there – made for some pride in the team's accomplishment.

“I'm never going to root against the US,” he said. “The fact that they were doing so well, and the center back combination was playing awesome in John Brooks and Geoff Cameron, it was fun to watch.”

Also, getting a break between the Liga MX title game and Tuesday's exhibition opener allowed Gonzalez to be on hand for a big family moment.

“I got to be there for the birth of my daughter,” he said. “That's one of the things that are really important to me, personally.”

That said, Gonzalez would like to stay in the conversation for the next round of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

“I just need to continue what I've been doing,” he said. “I'm a starter for my team, who won a championship in a very tough league. To be honest, I've just go to keep looking forward. I've got to look to improve every single day, going into every single practice in every single game in championship mode.

“I'm sure if I continue in that mode, they will be watching and hopefully they'll give me another opportunity.”

Gonzalez also said he keeps in contact with his former coach, Bruce Arena, and several of his old Galaxy teammates. “The Galaxy's in my blood,” he said, “and I'm going to be part of that family for life.”

And with Pachuca back in the CONCACAF Champions League for 2016-17, he will likely be seeing some familiar MLS faces when the knockout stage rolls around early next year.

“It's going to be very interesting,” Gonzalez said. “It's going to be fun playing against MLS teams. Maybe I've got a real shot at winning it this time.”

Steve Brisendine covers soccer in Kansas City for