CARSON, Calif. – The LA Galaxy defenders joked that Omar Gonzalez will be taking his back four brethren to a fancy dinner to celebrate his new Designated Player contract that was announced on Thursday.
While the date and time of this celebratory banquet remains to be seen, by retaining Gonzalez, the Galaxy believe that the defender will definitely be able to take them to even more MLS glory.
“You’ve seen what he’s meant to our team. When he was gone [in 2012] and he came back, that’s when we turned it on. He’s a big part of our defense both literally and figuratively,” said defender A.J. DeLaGarza, who has played with Gonzalez since their days at the University of Maryland. “Now more pressure is going to be put on him now that he has that tag on him, and I’m sure that he’ll step up to the occasion.”
Since joining the LA Galaxy, Gonzalez has blossomed from a first round MLS SuperDraft pick out of the University of Maryland into a U.S. international, who is considered by many to be the best defender in MLS. After racking up numerous awards like the 2009 MLS Rookie of the Year and 2011 MLS Defender of the Year awards as well as two MLS Best XI nods (2010, 2011), and an MLS Cup MVP award in 2012, Gonzalez has continued his rise this year.
So far this season, Gonzalez has made 18 appearances in MLS regular season play while also becoming a regular with the U.S. National Team, having made 10 appearances—nine of them starts— in the 17 games that head coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s squad has played this year.
“If you judge the arch of his career, you’d say that it is going off exactly as you’d want it to,” said Landon Donovan. “He started off a little naïve, but was effective. Then over the last couple of years, he’s transitioned from just being a young kid into being a leader. That’s what you want. That’s ideal in the process of a player and I think that he’s done a terrific job.”
Not only should the deal help the Galaxy compete for an unprecedented third consecutive MLS Cup title, but LA veterans believe that Gonzalez’s signing to a DP contract should have a lasting impact throughout MLS.
“I think that it sends a very good message to all the players in our league that if you come through the ranks and play well that you get rewarded,” said Donovan. “I hope there is more of that then club’s going out and signing foreigners. I’d much rather see American players that put in the league and put in the work get rewarded, we’re all very happy for him.”
“He deserves it. It’s great for the American player as well because we have two American DP’s now [with the Galaxy],” added Todd Dunivant. “It is a good sign that it is not just foreign players getting that kind of money.”
As the most notable American player to elect to remain in MLS rather than Europe, Donovan believes that a trend may be starting to keep the best American players at home.
“If that’s happening it means that our national team is improving and soccer as a whole in the country is improving. Of course, you’re going to have foreign influence, that’s natural. We’ve been beneficiaries of a lot of good foreign players [at the Galaxy], but you want to see American players do well too,” said Donovan. “If American players develop the right way that means our coaching is getting better, our academy is getting better, we’re developing players better, and in my opinion, in the long term, that’s the only way to compete for a World Cup one day.”
Adam Serrano is the LA Galaxy Insider. Read his blog at LAGalaxy.com/Insider and contact him at LAGalaxyInsider@Gmail.com