When I talked to Omar Gonzalez and A.J. DeLaGarza during the January United States national team camp, they had just finished playing side by side in the first full scrimmage of the camp. Both of them acknowledged just how good of an opportunity stood before them, but it was A.J. who said it best: "This is the biggest year of my soccer career".
Gonzalez spoke not as a player hopeful to get a break, but as one who had broken in and was looking forward to a big year with the national team. He spoke about worrying about the team and winning first, and how that would translate into being able to do what you want.
He's certainly come out looking to help the team. He finished second in the Castrol Index after the warm up against Canada and then third in the qualifier against Honduras. He's played all 180 available minutes, and his call-up for this latest qualifier was no surprise. When asked about what he sees in Omar Gonzalez, Jurgen Klinsmann was terribly complimentary.
"I had him with me the whole January camp which has been a pleasure to see his potential," said Klinsmann. "Now for him, to get to another level, it is only by playing and gaining experience and growing. I think he's done well so far. We believe that there is a real special player coming through the system."
This path toward the next level comes at a time when the US is going through a sea change on the defensive back line. Carlos Bocanegra, long time captain and anchor on the back line, didn't play against Honduras and now wasn't called up for this next batch of qualifiers. Tim Howard will be unavailable due to injury.
In the last year of his contract with the LA Galaxy, Gonzalez has a chance to shine on the biggest stage US soccer has to offer. With all the questions raised by Brian Strauss yesterday about the future, the rise of Gonzalez seems to be a sure thing.