CARSON, Calif. – The LA Galaxy's Monday session barely qualified as a game.
The Galaxy fielded what was essentially their reserve side in a scrimmage against a squad full of their own academy players. No stats were kept and the excercise was over after 45 minutes.
It was, however, quite significant for one player on the field, as Omar Gonzalez played for the Galaxy in his first competitive setting since tearing ligaments in his left knee this past winter. The 2011 MLS Defender of the Year played the entire session – running, sprinting, making runs and sliding into position when necessary.
The match was one of many tests he’s had during his rehabilitation process, and Gonzalez gave himself a passing mark after the most recent sign of progress.
“Today was just to see how I am and how my fitness was coming along,” he told reporters. “I got a little bit tired towards the end, and we’re playing against our Academy, so I didn’t have to get up for a lot of headers or do a lot of defending. For the most part, I think I did well, but I wasn’t really tested.”
Gonzalez returned to full training more than two weeks ago, and while he has made significant progress during that time, a potential return date is not set in stone just yet. He didn't shy away from sharing his own goal, though.
“It is a moving target. We still don’t know yet,” Gonzalez said. “At the end of this month or early next month is my goal. But you never know, maybe I’ll surprise you guys.”
Instead of 2012 being a memorable step into the upper echelon of American center backs, Gonzalez’s year got off to a gloomy beginning. After moving to FC Nürnberg on a short-term loan with hopes of making an impression on the German club, Gonzalez tore a ligament in his left knee during his first training session with the club in January.
His original prognosis had him set to miss seven to nine months. Should Gonzalez return by the end of July, he’ll have been out just shy of seven months. Already, the signs are encouraging.
“The knee feels great," he said. "Some spots are a little tender, but I think it’s still the overall healing process going on. Once I’m out there, I don’t have any restrictions. I just get after it and get into tackles. There’s really nothing stopping me other than making sure that we hit close to the six-to-seven month mark and making sure that it’s fully healed.”
Although he’s closing in on full strength physically, the 23-year-old still had some mental hurdles to clear when testing the knee in live action. Gonzalez admitted that he eased out of potential tackles when he first returned to training but has gotten more confident in his knee as time went on.
Of all people, it was Clarence Seedorf who gave Gonzalez his first real test – and scare.
“Last week, when Clarence was here, he took a shot and I went to block it and I twisted my foot, twisted my knee,” Gonzalez said. “But that was actually a good little scare because it made me feel like my knee is good, my knee is ready and the next day I came out and I had a great day.”
Few could have faulted Gonzalez had he come out of his ill-fated audition in Germany a bit depressed, initially at least, by a long layoff and what amounted to a missed opportunity. But the Dallas native kept his wits about him and said he never got too low.
And now that he's on the verge of returning, there’s no room for anything but positive vibes.
“It wasn’t that traumatic of an event,” Gonzalez said. “It happened, I was over it, I was looking towards my recovery the whole time. All of my friends and family were behind me, so it was a pretty easy process.”