The Los Angeles Galaxy looked like world beaters to start the season. With Juninho pulling the strings in midfield, Landon Donovan providing the assists and Edson Buddle tearing through the competition and the nets, the Galaxy came out flying.
Now, after some very uneven play throughout the season, the Galaxy head into the post-season with some legitimate questions about their chances despite pocketing their third Supporter’s Shield. They are, however, this writer’s pick to hoist the MLS Cup as well.
One player who seems to continually be answering more questions and getting served new, grander ones about his potential is Texan Omar Gonzalez.
The skyscraping centerback has followed up on an accomplished rookie campaign by growing, at times painfully, in his second campaign.
The defender has been asked to shoulder a larger burden of the Galaxy’s defensive organization…and possibly for the USMNT as Gonzalez appears poised to continually feature for Bob Bradley’s crew over the next year.
TSG had a chance to chat by phone with Omar a little more than a week ago, and get some insights on what’s going on with the Galaxy and what some of his expectations are for club and country.
TSG: The playoffs are coming up. Looks like you might face Seattle. Does it matter who you face going into the playoffs?
Omar: Doesn’t really matter. I think Seattle would be a good match-up though.
We already faced each other twice this year and came out on top both times.
If it was up to me I think I’d like to go up against Seattle and then whoever is up next…we’ll cross that road when it comes.
TSG: The Galaxy came out blazing to start this year and then seemed to suffer a flat tire during the middle part of year. What was that attributable to? The loss of Gregg Berhalter, two major players in Landon and Edson going to South Africa, or just normal ebb and flow?
Omar: It’s just a normal thing that happens. It’s the ebb and flow. You can’t win all games, obviously.
I think we went from the beginning of this season being undefeated up until the All-Star break.
We had a really good run.
Sometimes you go through a lull. We lost some players to the World Cup and some players got hurt.
So stuff like that happens and I think that we did well to rebound and get back on top and start playing well again.
TSG: How important is winning the Supporter’s Shield versus an MLS Cup?
Omar: I think winning a Supporters’ Shield is always great. Our league is pretty even now. I think that it’s hard to compete throughout the year.
In my existence on the team, the Galaxy have never won one so we want to [win the Supporter's Cup] and we want to win the whole thing. That’s two of our goals from the beginning of the year. They’re kind of indistinguishable.
TSG: One thing I noticed in looking over LA’s stats: you guys have given up a lot of goals at home, more than double actually.
Is that because of a disposition to play more defensively on the road and go for the draw? Or does the defense just zone in when they are out of their element? Are you worried about this for the playoffs?
Omar: We have given up a lot of goals at home. But I think going into the playoffs we think we know we need to play well at home.
I don’t know why we go on the road and play so well. But we need to bring the same effort at home.
We’re going to need those shutouts now at home.
TSG: How much have you missed having Gregg Berhlater as your central defense partner?
Omar: Well, he brings a crucial attribute to the game in his leadership. He’s the point on that stuff in that back. He’s been around for a long time and played in Europe as well.
He’s got a good soccer mind and his leadership and organization are important, and I think he adds a lot when he’s on the field.
Since he hasn’t been able to be on the field much I’ve had to play with four different people. It’s hard to play with a different partner every week.
I think though we make do and everyone works that much harder around us so as to not pressure us.
For me, I’d like to have Gregg next to me every time I go out there. But I obviously try and play well with whoever is out there.
TSG: How have you augmented your game, if at all, in Gregg’s absence?
Omar: Well, I just try to play my game. I do talk a little bit. Not as much as I need though.
Gregg sat me down when he was out and basically just told me, “Don’t try and be like me (Berhalter).”
Don’t try to take his role. Just play the way you normally play…leadership will come with experience.
He sat me down and that really helped, and after we talked that allowed me to come into my own this year.
TSG: As for how centerback partnerships go, is it better to have complementary players, for example someone like you who owns the air paired with someone who chases strikers on the ground, or just two good ones?
Omar: I think it’s better to have two centerbacks that are great in all areas. Obviously that’s ideal.
Sometimes you don’t have that. With me and Gregg we’re both good in the air. He’s better and faster on the ball than I am though.
I think AJ and I have done a tremendous job together.
I’m the big guy, he’s small and fast one.
But you just need good chemistry. You have to understand the other guy and you have to have good organization.
TSG: Follow-up here: do you feel you’ve played better with AJ rather than Leo this year? From our vantage point it seems that the experience and complementary skills with AJ is a better pairing…
Omar: Leo’s a great player too, but we’ve played well together.
But the thing about Leo is the language barrier: Spanish to Portuguese is a little difficult. That’s a challenge.
TSG: Changing course here, let me rattle off some names: Higuain, Neymar, Pato, Henry, Angel. These are all strikers that you’ve come up against in the past three months. Who was the toughest opponent?
Omar: I’d have to go with the guys in the Brazil game. Neymar and Pato. That’s a lot coming at you at once.
TSG: More on the national team here, the centerback competition seems pleasantly stacked going into Gold Cup preparation. You have Marshall, Goodson, Gooch, maybe Edu, maybe your old teammate Hunter Freeman, perhaps Ike.
Do you feel the pressure and intensity of the competition at the position?
Omar: Well, honestly, I haven’t really thought about it. There is a lot of competition there though.
You’ve got the guys who played in the last World Cup, that are experienced and will still be able to play there.
Then you have the middle page guys, so to speak; guys like me. I’ll be 24, 25 when Brazil comes around.
You know there’s also Tim Ream. He’s playing really well.
It’s just tough to say.
Bob Bradley is going to have to take three or four and I have to be on that list.
TSG: Do you have specific goals–like, “I want to be the starter at next year’s Gold Cup”–for the national team?
Omar: For sure.
I want to be a consistent starter on the USMNT. Whenever they have camps, I want to be called in.
TSG: So you think you’ll likely be called in for January camp at HDC?
Omar: Yeah, I think so. Just playing in that camp makes you that much better.
TSG: Quick question from a reader here, did you ever consider playing for Mexico?
Omar: I thought about it here and there. But I’m just happy I got my chance with the United States. I appreciate the Mexican culture, but I lived and grew up here in the U.S. I was raised here and I’m happy I got a chance to play for the U.S.
TSG: Speaking of Mexico, with the new CONCACAF ruling that in essence pushes the U.S. to play more games against smaller national teams in the Americas, do you feel there is enough competition for the Yanks in the region, or they’ll need to find that some elsewhere?
Omar: Everyone wants to get to the World Cup so I think the teams we’ll play will be up for it.
But, we’re also going to need a balance of international friendlies outside of our region with the changes.
TSG: Okay, I know you have to run. I’ll finish up with some lighter stuff.
TSG: Who’s the best shooter on the Galaxy? Straight ball striking and hitting the back of the net.
TSG: Here’s one we ask everyone. God forbid you got in a bar brawl, who’s the one teammate you’d want to be there, having your back.
Omar: Josh Saunders.
TSG: So I imagine you go out with Landon and some other teammates in Manhattan Beach and around LA, does anyone ever mistake you for Landon’s bodyguard?
Omar: Well, I don’t know if other people think I’m his bodyguard, but I feel I have to be sometimes.
Sometimes, we’re all trying to hang out…and people come up to Landon and we want to hang out privately so I’ll step in there and act as one.
TSG: Too funny. Alright, Omar, we’ll let you go here. Thanks for all of your time. Appreciate it.
Omar: No problem, thanks.
Los Angeles’s number one bodyguard, Omar Gonzalez, and the Galaxy take on the Seattle Sounders Sautday asdfasdfasdfasdf