While preparing for World Cup Qualifiers beginning in February, Omar Gonzalez and A.J. DeLaGarza see an opportunity for their careers to truly take off.
LA Galaxy defenders Omar Gonzalez and A.J. DeLaGarza have been practicing all week as part of Jurgen Klinsmann's January U.S. soccer camp, but Saturday was the first time camp broke out into a full scrimmage. Paired up with Steven Beitashour and Justin Morrow of the San Jose Earthquakes, the half Galaxy half Quake back line tried to prove themselves worthy of one of the roster spots on the United States World Cup Qualifying roster.
With two major tournaments on the horizon (CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying, CONCACAF Gold Cup) there are plenty of opportunities for the players in the January camp to get some time representing their country this calendar year. Despite these opportunities, the goal is not what's happening this year but what lies ahead in 2014. Everyone in camp wants to be on that plane to Brazil.
"This is the biggest year of my soccer career," said A.J. DeLaGarza. "I'm 25 right now, next year is the World Cup. This is the year where I need to be able to prove myself, make a name for myself, and get called for the World Cup roster. That's my goal."
DeLaGarza and Omar Gonzalez have been collecting trophies left and right since joining MLS in 2009. The pair of defenders from the University of Maryland both received high honors this year with DeLaGarza winning the Galaxy's regular season Defender of the Year and Gonzalez taking home MLS Cup MVP honors. It may have taken a beautiful headed goal for a defender to finally receive Cup MVP honors, but that's a sometimes overlooked component to Gonzalez' game. In the full scrimmage, Gonzalez received applause from the spectators who had gathered on the hill above the field after heading home the lone goal for his side.
Because of his injury and other scheduling issues, Gonzalez wasn't able to get time with the U.S. national team last year. Had the Galaxy not been in the playoffs last November, it's likely Gonzalez would have been called up for the friendly against Russia. Despite being in contact last year, this is the first time Gonzalez has gotten to play in front of Klinsmann. He's impressed, and there are spots available for him on the senior roster.
"I think if you worry about the team first, and you worry about winning," said Omar Gonzalez, "you can do whatever you want"
DeLaGarza sounds like a player just starting to see all he can accomplish, and Gonzalez sounds like he's already arrived and can't wait for what comes next. For both of them this promises to be a brobdingnagian moment in their soccer careers, a real tremendous opportunity.