Gonzalez growing up fast for Galaxy

LA leaning on 2009 Rookie of the Year even more this season

Before the 2010 MLS season started, Galaxy defender Omar Gonzalez said one of the most important tasks he needed to accomplish this year was to continue to develop, particularly in one area.

“I’m going to try and have more of a leadership role,” Gonzalez said before the season started. “As I grow as a player, that’s something that I need to get better at. I’m going to take initiative and try and become better with that.”

Early returns are in, and Gonzalez has thus far lived up to his goals.

While Gonzalez isn't quite ready to lay claim as the best defender in MLS, the reigning MLS Rookie of the Year is continuing his development and continuing to grow as a player. Just two games into his second year, Gonzalez has looked like a seasoned veteran.

The Galaxy are 2-0-0 and have yet to allow a goal in either game. Gonzalez helped Los Angeles keep New England from scoring in the season-opener, then helped shut down a Chivas USA squad that had entered their April 1 SuperClásico date determined for success.

A long road remains between now and the end of the season, but Gonzalez’s teammates feel he is more than capable of handling the responsibilities of a central defender.

“The biggest thing that Omar has done this year versus last is he’s becoming a leader,” Galaxy captain Landon Donovan said. “Last year, he kind of took direction from Gregg [Berhalter] and this year, with Gregg not being healthy, he’s had to step up and lead, especially with a guy next to him not speaking English and hasn’t played a lot with us. Omar still has a few moments where he makes mistakes but overall he’s been very good.”

Mentor and tutor Berhalter has not been around due to a knee injury, and with the addition of Leonardo -- one three Brazilian imports who speak no English -- Gonzalez’s development has been fast-tracked out of necessity. Gonzalez has exceeded expectations, and that's not at all a surprise to his mentor.

“He’s doing well,” said Berhalter, who has not dressed thus far this season. “Part of his responsibility now is to be more vocal and help Leo and help the guys around him a bit more and I think he’s done that.”

Perhaps helping Gonzalez feel comfortable this season is continuity. On the back line, Gonzalez has players on the flanks in Sean Franklin and Todd Dunivant, both of whom were around last season. In front of him, Dema Kovalenko and Chris Birchall were also there and in goal is Donovan Ricketts, yet another familiar face to help Gonzalez feel comfortable.

Leonardo has been one of the few newcomers, but the Brazilian has slipped into Berhalter’s position well.

“We have great team chemistry coming from last year in getting to the final,” Gonzalez said. “So we just want to build on that, stay together as a team and just get better throughout the season.”

While the Galaxy have room to improve -- New England’s Kheli Dube was a bad touch away from scoring on two occasions in the opener -- the defensive play from Gonzalez has been right on track for the second-year man.

“Our center backs are good players and it showed again [Thursday],” Galaxy coach Bruce Arena said after last week's win over Chivas. “Omar has more confidence and can grow a lot as a player and will.”