RECIFE, Brazil – There were more than a few alarm bells going off when Omar Gonzalez took his place in the United States’ starting lineup for the team’s Group G finale against Germany on Thursday.
After all, nearly five months had passed since the LA Galaxy center back had received the call from head coach Jurgen Klinsmann, due to a nagging injury and some ragged play this spring that had dropped Gonzalez behind handyman Geoff Cameron in the starting lineup.
But Gonzalez was back to his steady ways in the Americans’ 1-0 loss to the Germans at Arena Pernambuco, providing solid play on a backline that was pummeled most of the day against one of the World Cup’s heavy favorites.
Gonzalez said he learned he would be starting from Klinsmann earlier this week – shortly after Cameron endured a forgettable performance in the team’s 2-2 draw against Portugal – and he backed up his head coach’s decision, clearing multiple German chances away in the first half as the US carried a shutout into the break.
“I felt like I was pretty solid,” he told reporters. “I did my job. I haven’t been getting many looks since the very beginning of camp with my little injury, but I always said I was going to stay ready. I got my opportunity today and I’m just happy I could step on the field and help this team through.”
Klinsmann said after the match that he called on Gonzalez to give Cameron “a break” following two straight 90-minute performances, and did not refer to Cameron’s miscue early against Portugal that led to an early goal.
Cameron told reporters following the team’s 2-1 win over Ghana on June 16 that he was battling a cold, but Klinsmann did not indicate that or any other injury was the reason he was benched.
“I think my little injury let Cameron in, and Jurgen was showing a lot of confidence in Cameron,” Gonzalez said. “Things change. Now, since I got my opportunity, I definitely wanted to make the most of it."
Gonzalez and center back Matt Besler carried the bulk of the load during World Cup qualifying in 2013 before they started most recently during the US’ 2-2 draw against Mexico in April. Gonzalez took some heat for his play in that game – most notably some loose marking on El Tri’s equalizing goal in the second half.
“For the most part, I think we did an excellent job,” Besler said after Thursday's game. “Omar had a terrific game, especially in the first half.”
Gonzalez admitted, however, he flubbed an early clearance against the Germans – not drastically unlike Cameron’s flub in Manaus – and attributed it to possible nerves his first World Cup start.
“I’m not going to be perfect,” he said. “No one is comfortable out on that field. It’s the way that I've got to manage being uncomfortable, and after that hiccup I thought all my clearances were good.”
The only sour part of Gonzalez’s day? His family and friends were unable to see his return in person because of the steady rain that flooded Recife’s streets and stranded them at the hotel, where he said they watched the hotel on their cell phones.
“For the ones who got stuck,” Gonzalez said, “now we give them another game to go to.”