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May 31, 2014
Gonzalez has recovered from injury, pushes for starting job in Brazil

By Scott French
LA Soccer News Contributing Editor

His injured knee now healed, Omar Gonzalez is vying for a starting spot on the US World Cup team back line.
His injured knee now healed, Omar Gonzalez is vying for a starting spot on the US World Cup team back line.
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
SAN FRANCISCO -- Omar Gonzalez was pleased with how he got through his first test with the U.S. national team following his quick recovery from a minor knee injury. Now it's about jousting for a starting job in Brazil.

The Galaxy center back, who is headed to the World Cup in another week or so, has two chief aims when the U.S. on Sunday faces Turkey in Harrison, N.J.: first, show off best he can for Jurgen Klinsmann and his staff; and, second, help his chief competition for a starting role do their finest, too.

“I'm in the same boat as everyone else,” Gonzalez said after a solid second-half showing in the Yanks' 2-0 victory earlier this week over Azerbaijan at Candlestick Park, the first of three games in the national team's “send-off” series. “Everyone has been working tremendously hard to get ready for the first game [in the World Cup, on June 16 against Ghana], and we're all just helping each other along. We're 23 guys, and Jurgen has to pick the 11 [starters], so right now we're all just helping each other out [in making the decision difficult for Klinsmann].”

Gonzalez, Major League Soccer's premier central defender, is competing with Sporting Kansas City's Matt Besler, Stoke City's Geoff Cameron and Hertha Berlin youngster John Brooks for time in the middle of the backline. He and Besler were the first-choice couplet most of last year, but Klinsmann declared Cameron -- who had been considered primarily an outside back -- a center back in camp, and his experience in the English Premier League provides an advantage.

“Omar came into camp a little bit behind because of the knee problem,” Klinsmann said. “Camp starts, and at that position others are ahead of him. [All the candidates] are working hard to make that point, and we keep using those three send-off games to see more from them, every training session to see more of them before we then decide who's going to be the starter going into Brazil.”

Gonzalez wasn't able to train fully until the fifth day of camp, he said, after tweaking his left knee in the Galaxy's 1-0 loss at Colorado on May 3. He missed L.A.'s draw at Portland the following weekend, then joined the U.S. camp at Stanford University ahead of the Azerbaijan clash.

“When it first happened in Colorado, obviously before you get the diagnosis, everyone gets scared about a knee injury,” Gonzalez said when asked if he had feared the injury might cost him the World Cup. “But after I found out what it was, I figured it would be no problem, and I would be back and ready to go.”

Gonzalez worked on his own the first few days of camp, “and then slowly I got with the group,” he said. “Right now I'm training with no problems. I'm even doing extra work to catch up to the work that I missed in the beginning.”

He spelled Cameron at halftime at Candlestick, and said getting through “45 minutes without getting tired [is] a big plus.” He hopes to play longer against the Turks and in the final pre-Cup friendly, June 8 against Nigeria in Jacksonville, Fla.

“[The Azerbaijan game] was about getting on the field, getting a game in front of us, an international game, and just a step in the right direction,” Gonzalez said. “We won, 2-0, there was a lot of good movement. The wind made it hard to complete a lot of good passes, but I thought there was a lot of good thought process being there.

“I just wanted to go out there and be solid, just have a good night. Don't let [Azerbaijan] get too much. I thought I did that.”

The competition with Besler, Cameron and Brooks promises to be grueling.

“Jurgen has built a 23-man roster where there's going to be a lot of competition,” Gonzalez said. “Everyone's really working hard, every practice is intense, and I think whoever Jurgen picks, I can't worry about that. I just have to go into every single practice and try to make the guy next to me better and also make myself better. That's all we can do right now.

“Whoever he picks, whether I'm starting, great. If not, then I'll be the biggest cheerleader and helping my teammates along.”

Gonzalez acknowledges he was saddened to see Galaxy teammate Landon Donovan not make it onto the roster, a stunning decision that has roiled American soccer.

“I thought I would always be here in this position with him on the field next to me,” Gonzalez said. “Him not being here is definitely a bummer, because we shared so many memories at the Galaxy -- and to be able to do it on the national team with possibly the best guy to ever wear the national team kit [was something I looked forward to].

“Him not being here is a bummer, but we do have 23 guys here, and I have to worry about them now. In just have to grab hold of it and do everything I can so we can be successful.”

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