Omar Gonzalez (pictured), shown playing in an international friendly against Mexico on April 2, 2014, wants the USA to get off to a good start in the final round qualifying in CONCACAF for the 2018 FIFA World Cup. (Photo: Victor Straffon/Straffon Images)
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Omar Gonzalez is a man caught between two countries as he and his United States teammates prepare for their FIFA World Cup qualifier against Mexico on Friday.
The 28-year-old defender has family on both sides of the border, although his more immediate relatives reside in the U.S.
"This game is really special for me, being Mexican-American," Gonzalez said. "Having the majority of my family still living in Mexico I know they're cheering for Mexico, but they want me to do well. So, I'm in that kind of weird area for them. My immediate family is for the U.S. all the way. Can't wait to beat them."
Gonzalez, who plays his club football in Mexico for Pachuca, wants to make it five straight times that the Americans prevail over Mexico at MAPFRE Stadium in qualifying by the same 2-0 score; also doing so in 2001, 2005, 2009 and 2013.
The confrontation is first for each in the final round of qualifying in CONCACAF as six teams compete for three direct berths to Russia 2018. With a Tuesday encounter looming for the USA in Costa Rica, where it has never won a qualifier, accruing three points at home is essential.
"A win here could put us on the right foot to qualify," commented Gonzalez.
Over the years, the U.S. has gained a strong foothold at MAPFRE Stadium. It has never lost at the venue, posting an all-time record of 8W-3D-0L (10 shutouts), including a 7-2-0 mark in World Cup Qualifying.
In addition to that level of success, Gonzalez has always been impressed by the vociferous backing of supporters at the 23,665-seat venue.
"Having a majority of the U.S. fans [that] fill up that stadium is incredible," he expressed. "You don't get that anywhere else you go. So, it's definitely an advantage for us to play here. This time around we're going to have fans from all 50 states. It's going to be incredible. It's not the biggest stadium. It’s intimate, it's loud. People are close to the pitch. It's going to be great."
Gonzalez should know. He played in the game three years ago, a result that clinched the USA's berth for the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil.
"The United States never wants to lose to Mexico and Mexico never wants to lose to the United States," Gonzalez finished.