SAN FRANCISCO—If Omar Gonzalez is going to start for the U.S. National Team during the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil then he’ll have to prove himself to head coach Jurgen Klinsmann.
Gonzalez was one of the USMNT’s primary starters during their qualifying campaign as he racked up 8 starts predominantly alongside Sporting Kansas City center back Matt Besler, but during Tuesday’s 2-0 victory over Azerbaijan in San Francisco, the Galaxy defender found himself on the bench.
Instead of Gonzalez, it was Geoff Cameron who started alongside Besler with Gonzalez resigned to a substitute’s role as he replaced the Stoke City defender at the start of the second half.
The 45-minute stint was Gonzalez’s first extended minutes since he suffered a left knee injury with the Galaxy earlier this month that forced him to miss out on the first three days of their Stanford University based training camp. Back from injury and reunited with Besler, the defender did not disappoint as he was solid in defense while facing little pressure from the defensive-minded Azerbaijanis.
However, afterward Klinsmann asserted that Gonzalez had ground to make up if he wanted to start when the U.S. take on Ghana in their Group G opener on June 16.
"Cam's now a little bit ahead of him," Klinsmann said. "Both are working hard to make their point. And we keep using those send-off games to see more from them. Every training session we see more of them before we then decide who's going to be the starter going into Brazil."
"Naturally, it's open," Klinsmann added. "How much, it's difficult to say."
Following the match, Gonzalez assured reporters that he felt “really strong” during his stint off the bench and was at 100 percent heading into the final two matches of U.S. Soccer’s Send-Off Series. Those matches against Turkey on Sunday in New Jersey and Nigeria on June 7 in Florida will be a proving ground for Gonzalez as he looks to earn his starting role.
The two matches set up a position battle that Gonzalez admits that he is relishing.
“I think Jurgen has built a 23-man roster where there is going to be a lot of competition,” said Gonzalez. “Everyone is working really hard; every practice has been intense, and I can’t worry about whoever Jurgen picks.
“I just got to go into every single practice and try to make the guys next to me better and also make myself better. That’s all we can do right now,” he added. “Whoever he picks, if I’m starting, great, if not I will be their biggest cheerleader and helping my teammates along.”
“I think I’m in the same boat as everyone else,” said Gonzalez. “Everyone has been working tremendously hard to get ready for the first game and we are all just helping each other. We are 23 guys and Jurgen has to pick the 11. Right now, we are just helping each other by leaving everything on the field and keep on getting better so that’s the way it is.”
Even though Gonzalez is quick to say the right things about the competition, the Galaxy’s Texas-born center back knows that he has to make the most of his opportunities.
“I just have to grab hold of it and do everything I can so that we can be successful.”