CARSON, Calif. – Omar Gonzalez had drawn interest from clubs in Europe and Mexico and seemed a good bet as the next American star to emigrate from MLS to one of the big leagues overseas.
Instead, he signed a Designated Player deal last summer with the LA Galaxy. He’s not the only US national-teamer choosing his home league over Europe’s riches.
Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley came home ahead of the World Cup, and now defender Matt Besler and midfielder Graham Zusi, fresh off fine performances in Brazil, have re-upped with Sporting Kansas City, signing DP contracts that will keep them in MLS for several years, at the least.
"It’s great to have Graham Zusi and Matt Besler stick around," Gonzalez said this week as the Galaxy prepared for Wednesday night’s Rose Bowl friendly against Manchester United (10:30 pm ET, Fox Sports 1). "To have your American players playing in the World Cup and then come home and re-sign with the league and commit to the league, it’s great, because all the young fans who were watching us can go see them live.
"And [these young fans] have players to look up to, and not [have to look] overseas. ... They can go to their backyard and say, ‘I want to be like Matt Besler,’ ‘I want to be like Graham Zusi,’ ‘Landon Donovan,’ things like that. I’m happy for them. I’m happy they got the money they deserved, all the effort and hard work they put in."
The American soccer player’s dream always was about playing in Europe, where the game is a cultural force unlike anything seen in sport on these shores. So many of our best players a generation and two ago – from John Harkes and Paul Caligiuri to Kasey Keller and Brad Friedel to Steve Cherundolo, Tim Howard, Dempsey and Bradley – made Europe their home.
That dream isn’t quite the same anymore.
"I think it’s changing a little bit, but a lot of players still have the dream to go play in Europe," said Gonzalez, who hopes to get a few minutes against Manchester United as he returns from an ankle injury suffered in the United States’ round-of-16 loss to Belgium at the World Cup. "The level is still higher there. ... Some players want to try something new, just test themselves overseas, and now players want to stay here. I think they’re both great decisions, and it’s great to have players from your national team playing here at home. It’s great for the growth of the league."
- Get the latest Galaxy headlines from LAGalaxy.com
Gonzalez had a short-term loan to German Bundesliga club FC Nuremberg at the start of 2012, but he torn his ACL in his first training session and returned home for surgery and rehab. Does he still have the dream of playing in Europe?
"I do," he said. "I still want to go try my trade in Europe, but right now I’m committed to the Galaxy.
His impressive performance in Brazil against Germany and Belgium brought speculation of overseas interest, but Gonzalez hadn’t much to say about it.
"That’s something my agent handles," he said. "Right now, I’m looking to get back to full fitness and looking forward to getting a result against United and [then next week] go to Seattle and have a real tough game [with the Sounders]."