Omar Gonzalez (pictured) is a key member of both the LA Galaxy and the United States. (Photo: German Alegria)
CARSON, California -- After winning two MLS Cups and numerous individual awards, the LA Galaxy’s Omar Gonzalez can make a major impact internationally this year.
The defender has become a starter for the United States, which will compete in this July’s World Cup. Prior to the start of that competition, however, Gonzalez and the Galaxy will be in the hunt for another trophy, when they face Club Tijuana in the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals.
Success has marked Gonzalez's career since joining LA as a 20-year old in 2009.
After being named Major League Soccer's rookie of the year, Gonzalez made the league's Best 11 in three of the next four campaigns. In 2011, he was named the MLS defender of the year and, a season later, he was the most valuable player of MLS Cup 2012 in the Galaxy’s triumph over the Houston Dynamo.
The past two years, though, have posed multiple challenges. In January 2012, Gonzalez tore a knee ligament while training on loan with Germany's FC Nurnberg. He returned to action that July, but played in only 14 regular-season games.
"I didn't see myself getting back to this level," Gonzalez said at the time. "I actually had some days when I was just thinking if I was ever going to come back the same way."
Well, not only did he “come back the same way,” the former University of Maryland Terrapin has reached new heights.
Before the end of April last year, he participated in the Galaxy’s pre-season training, played in the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals and semifinals, kicked off the new MLS season and appeared in the opening three games in the final round of World Cup Qualifying.
"You just started the season and you have to get points to qualify for the World Cup," expressed Gonzalez. "Every game matters. That's pretty difficult."
In the big picture, balancing the different demands of United States head coach Jurgen Klinsmann and Galaxy manager Bruce Arena, proved challenging, as well as beneficial.
"All of those games shifting gears was pretty difficult," Gonzalez noted. "I have to realize what team I'm on and how I need to play. But I think all that helped me recognize things and how I need to keep on learning as a pro."
Learning to adapt quickly was very rewarding.
"I recognize that I can play at the international level," Gonzalez finished. "I belong at this level. I need to keep my confidence up and just keep trying to improve."