CARSON, Calif. – The LA Galaxy defense performed well on Wednesday as they earned their fifth shutout of the 2013 MLS regular season in a scoreless draw against the Portland Timbers. Now as the Galaxy look to build on that showing on Sunday against Chivas USA, they welcome back the leader of their back four—center back Omar Gonzalez.
The 24-year-old returned Los Angeles on Wednesday afternoon and was back on the training field for the first time on Friday after a successful month-long stint with the U.S. National Team. Gonzalez earned the start in all five of U.S. team’s matches over the international period including the World Cup Qualifying victories over Jamaica, Panama, and Honduras. With nine points in the bag, the U.S. catapulted to the top of their CONCACAF World Cup qualifying “Hexagonal” group and sit just one victory from, essentially, assuring their qualification for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
“It was a very good month. We accomplished what we wanted to do which was get nine points, and obviously, we’re coming out of it with nine points and we’re in good position leading up to our next games,” said Gonzalez after Friday’s training session. “For the most part, I thought I was pretty solid. Obviously, there were a couple of plays, but a couple out of a 100 isn’t that bad. I think, at the end of it, you look at results. We got a few shutouts in there so that’s moving in the right direction.”
When the U.S. resumes World Cup Qualifying against Costa Rica in September, Gonzalez is a good bet to be called upon by Klinsmann if at full fitness. However, Gonzalez may rejoin the U.S. squad sooner than that with the CONCACAF Gold Cup scheduled to begin in early July. The Galaxy center back was named to Klinsmann’s 35-man preliminary roster, but will be unable to join the team until the quarterfinals after an agreement was reached between U.S. Soccer and MLS that allowed players to play for their club’s during the weekend of May 25 in exchange for availability for the knockout rounds of the Gold Cup.
After a taxing month of crisscrossing the continent in search of that ticket to Brazil, Gonzalez believes that he has learned plenty about himself both as a person and as a player, but one lesson stands above all others.
“I belong there. That’s one thing that I’ve learned, not really to question myself. If I do make a mistake, you just keep on moving forward and you get over it,” said Gonzalez. “You look to the next game and, obviously, five games in three weeks is pretty tough. I think that my body held up well. I thought it was a great three weeks and now I’m just happy to be back here in L.A.”
And his Galaxy teammates are happy to have him back.
“He’s a big part of our team,” said Gonzalez’s central defense partner A.J. DeLaGarza. “The way that he’s been playing with the national team has been great and, hopefully, he can bring that [intensity] here.”
Against Chivas USA on Sunday, the Galaxy have the opportunity to return to their traditional back four set up of Sean Franklin, Gonzalez, DeLaGarza, and Todd Dunivant. Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena has been unable to place all four together in his starting XI since LA’s 1-0 loss to the New York Red Bulls on May 19 because of an injury to Dunivant and Gonzalez’s international absence.
With the gang back together again, LA are hoping to replicate their stretch run of a year ago when the team mostly—with the exception of DeLaGarza—stayed healthy during the end of the 2012 season.
“It was the similar situation last year wasn’t it?” said Keane. “The second half of the season, everyone seemed to be fit, so hopefully that will be the case from now on so we can go on the same run as we did at the end of last season. We’ll be good and we’re going in the right direction. I think that we’ll be fine for the next few games.”
Gonzalez may be making his return on Sunday, but the Galaxy are well-aware that that won’t cure all recent problems. After all, they’ll have to start to find the back of the net, something that they haven’t done as of late with just one goal during their four-game winless streak across all competitions.
“You could argue that Omar is one of the best players in the league and certainly for us one of our most effective and valuable players,” said Landon Donovan after LA’s draw on Wednesday. “In a league where there is a lot of parody, having one good player back makes a lot of difference. We’re excited to have him back, that being said, we did the part defensively [against Portland], we got to get the job right on the other side of the field.”
Although LA remain focused on correcting their issues on both sides of the field, Gonzalez is eager to help LA get back to their winning ways on Sunday with a win against their in-house rivals.
“We’ve had good stretches of play, but in the end, we end up giving up goals and that’s not acceptable. Obviously, 5-0 [against the New England Revolution] wasn’t something that I was too happy to see because I’m in camp,” said Gonzalez. “That was a bit of a drag. But I’m happy to see that when I came back they put up a great performance against Portland and I think that we’re on the right track to go back to (our) winning ways.”
Adam Serrano is the LA Galaxy Insider. Read his blog at LAGalaxy.com/Insider and contact him at LAGalaxyInsider@Gmail.com