The LA Galaxy made some history and secured a huge piece of their future on Thursday, signing defender Omar Gonzalez to a new multi-year contract that both keeps him in Los Angeles for the near future and makes him the first American defender to sign a Designated Player contract in league history.
Gonzalez, 24, has emerged as one the best central defenders in MLS since his rookie season in 2009, anchoring the Galaxy’s back line en route to two MLS Cups, and has a promising chance to feature for the US national team during the World Cup next summer in Brazil.
“To be the first Galaxy and US defender to be named as a Designated Player is a great honor for me,” Gonzalez said in a statement. “The Galaxy are the premier club in MLS and I’m looking forward to growing as a professional in LA while working towards winning a third consecutive MLS Cup.”
As per league policy, terms of the agreement were not released. Gonzalez joins forwards Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane as the other DPs on the roster for the Galaxy, who with Thursday’s move appear to be done making high-profile international signings this season ahead of a push for their third consecutive MLS Cup.
Gonzalez joins Rafa Marquez (New York Red Bulls) and Torsten Frings (Toronto FC) as the only defenders in league history to sign a Designated Player contract, but each of those players was used largely in the midfield during their MLS careers.
There are no such aspirations for Gonzalez, who was named Rookie of the Year in 2009 before earning MLS Best XI selections in 2010 and 2011. He was also named the MLS Defender of the Year award in 2011 and, after scoring the goal that kick-started the Galaxy’s comeback from a 1-0 halftime deficit, earned the 2012 MLS Cup MVP last December.
"We are pleased that Omar will remain with the Galaxy,” LA Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena said in a statement. “In the past five years, he has arguably developed in to the top defender in MLS. I believe he can continue to grow as a player and leader of our team.”
Since his arrival, the Galaxy are 64-23-32 in regular season games in which Gonzalez appears compared to just 11-16-5 in the games that he misses. The club has taken 62.7 percent of the available points with him in the lineup, compared to just 39.6 percent of the available points in games that he misses.
Gonzalez has also thrived this year with the US national team, earning nine consecutive starts on the back line for Jurgen Klinsmann between January and July, including all six of the team's CONCACAF World Cup qualifying matches in that span. He also came off the bench to help lock down the team's win over Panama in the Gold Cup final last month, and he’ll likely be part of the group once again when they return to qualifying action on Sept. 6 against Costa Rica.
Gonzalez has been linked in the past to interest from international clubs like Stoke City of the English Premier League and famed Mexican side Club America, and went on loan to the Bundesliga’s Nuremberg in early 2012, when he tore his ACL during his first training session with the German club. The player said this week that he does have aspirations of someday returning to Europe, but he’s currently focused on his continued career with the Galaxy.
“I think we've done some great things together here at the Galaxy, and right now my focus is on getting a third championship," Gonzalez said this week. "And that's where my focus is.”