MONTERREY, Mexico – The result wasn’t the one that Omar Gonzalez desired when he envisioned his return to Monterrey, but the LA Galaxy defender had plenty of reason to hold his head up high on Wednesday night.
A late goal by Aldo De Nigris doomed the Galaxy to a 1-0 defeat on Wednesday at the Estadio Tecnológico in their CONCACAF Champions League Semifinal second leg, giving Monterrey as 3-1 series win on aggregate. But despite the defeat, Gonzalez was a rock in the back for the Galaxy alongside fellow hulking center back Leonardo.
Repeatedly, the U.S. international was able to track back and prevent dangerous changes for the Monterrey attackers and it showed through on the stat sheet as he notched nine clearances, 11 interceptions and 11 recoveries according to OPTA. For all of the efforts of Gonzalez and the entire Galaxy back line, however, it simply wasn’t enough to overcome Monterrey.
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“Those guys are quality players and they’re really good in their league week in and week out,” said Gonzalez of Monterrey. “For us, going up against the champions, it is important for us to take this and learn from it. I think that moving forward; we’re going to do a lot better with this.”
That Gonzalez played one of the finest games of his career was made extra special due to his connections to the Mexican city, which is home to several of the his family members and where the defender’s uncle Lalo Rodriguez Plata captained Monterrey during the late-70’s and early-80’s.
His family was in full voice with at least 50 strong –Rodriguez Plata included— in attendance on Wednesday as Gonzalez darted across the field, repeatedly extinguishing Monterrey’s chances. The win may not have been in the cards for Gonzalez’s Galaxy side, but the experience was truly memorable.
“I thought that the fans were just great. My family was over there cheering the whole time, which I loved,” said Gonzalez. “Just playing here in Monterrey was a really good experience for me and I’ll never forget it.”
One moment midway through the first half could have made the night unforgettable for the Galaxy as Gonzalez was presented with one of LA’s clearest scoring opportunities in the 31st minute. The defender found himself with the ball at his feet in the center of the penalty area after a scrum from a Landon Donovan corner kick, only to see his toe-poke denied by the feet of Monterrey goalkeeper Juan De Dios Ibarra.
“I went up for the corner and it was a great ball in,” said Gonzalez. “We kind of hit it at the same time and no one knew where it was for a little bit and I just saw it in [the corner of] my eye and I tried to get a quick tap in, but the ‘keeper made a good save.”
That moment aside, following another colossal performance for the defender, there was plenty of praise for Gonzalez in the Galaxy locker room.
“I thought Omar performed very well,” head coach Bruce Arena said. “He can use this competition as a means of growing as a player. Hopefully, he learned something from last week. I think tonight he was excellent.”
“Omar was great,” said Landon Donovan. “I thought Omar was fantastic and that’s what we needed from him, unfortunately, we didn’t do our job on the other end of the field, but I thought he was great.”
The loss may sting a bit for Gonzalez and the Galaxy, but this weekend’s trip to face FC Dallas—where the hometown boy will have a cheering section of more than 200 in the stands—offers LA the opportunity to move forward. VIEWING PARTY
“I think we all realized that we played against a really good team,” said Gonzalez. “We wish that we could have done better, but you move on and you look at going to Dallas and getting a result there.”
As for what team Gonzalez will support in the Champions League Finals, his uncle’s former club Monterrey or Santos Laguna, the Galaxy defender tipped Monterrey to win the CCL for a third straight year.
“Of course because they beat us and [now] we want them to win,” Gonzalez said.
While I wish we won, it was still a great experience. At the end of the day, we played a good team. Time to focus on Dallas!— Omar Gonzalez (@Omar4Gonzalez) April 11, 2013
Adam Serrano is the LA Galaxy Insider. Read his blog at LAGalaxy.com/Insider and contact him at LAGalaxyInsider@Gmail.com