Omar Gonzalez to ASN: 'I Haven't Missed LA One Bit'
February 12, 2016
OMAR GONZALEZ didn’t expect to be one of the major success stories among Americans abroad in 2016, didn’t expect to find himself an established starter at Mexican club Pachuca, and didn’t expect to be rediscovering his 2011 MLS Defender of the Year form in a league that wasn’t MLS.
Because Gonzalez didn’t, in truth, expect to be abroad at all.
“I just got very comfortable in the life there,” Gonzalez told American Soccer Now, referencing his time in Los Angeles. “We were a great team. Why would you want to leave a team where it's very realistic to win a championship every single year? … It all happened so fast where maybe I thought that I would stay with the Galaxy but then the offer came in from Pachuca, and it was one I couldn't turn my back on.
“Things at the Galaxy were amazing. I had an amazing seven years there playing under Bruce [Arena] and with my teammates. The fans of L.A. have been amazing. They wanted me to take a pay cut, and I felt that at this point in my career, it wasn't the right time for me to be taking a pay cut. So that helped with the decision.
“Some other things were that I wanted to continue to grow as a player, and I figured coming to Liga MX would take me out of my comfort zone and try something new—a new style of soccer. It's proven to be just that.”
Gonzalez, 27, has settled in to his new reality seamlessly, starting in all five games so far for second place Pachuca, which remains undefeated. The six-foot-five center back is a direct reason for that, too: On Sunday, he scored an 88th-minute equalizer to salvage a 1-1 draw against Pumas.
Mexico has been a sort of homecoming for Gonzalez, whose parents both were born there and who still has family in Monterrey. As a kid, Gonzalez spent summers and holidays south of the border, and now that he lives there he’s been able to enjoy a lifestyle he never could have in expensive L.A.—including a full-time private chef for him and his family.
“I haven’t missed L.A. one bit,” he said.
The biggest transition for Gonzalez has come on the field. With the Galaxy his job was above all to defend, and when that was done, “get the ball off your feet and to the midfield as quickly as possible.” With manager Diego Alonso and Pachuca, Gonzalez is being asked to do much more with the ball at his feet.
“Here they're giving me the freedom to go with the ball, put you in uncomfortable positions, and find your way out of it,” Gonzalez said. “That's been the biggest difference for me and I am loving it. I am loving that opportunity to grow as a player.”
Gonzalez acknowledges and admires the competitiveness and quality of MLS but called Liga MX “a bit more tactical” than MLS, an opinion shared by a number of players who have spent time in both leagues. And he’s playing for one of the better Mexican outfits as well: Pachuca has won five Liga MX titles since 1999 and four CONCACAF Champions League crowns since 2002.
Now Gonzalez is hoping his rising performance for this top side will get him back into Jurgen Klinsmann’s good graces. The Dallas native had been a strong performer for the Americans first in their scoreless draw at Azteca in 2013 and then in Brazil the next year, but 2015 ended as a disappointment for Gonzalez—passed over for a starting nod at the 2015 Gold Cup, out of the playoffs early with the Galaxy, left off the U.S. roster for the fall’s World Cup qualifiers.
The 2016 calendar year, meanwhile, will see the continuation of World Cup qualifying (starting in March) and then the summer hosting of the Copa American Centenario. Gonzalez will have to maintain his form and his health to be involved, but early signs are promising: He received encouragement from Klinsmann via text after his strong start with Pachuca, and the coach recently congratulated him for his big goal against Pumas as well.
Gonzalez, for his part, said being recalled to the U.S. national team would be “amazing” but his focus, he maintained, is on Pachuca. Do well with his club, he believes, and opportunities with his country will follow.
Expectations, like his stock, are rising.
“I am really happy with the way things have gone here in Pachuca,” Gonzalez said. “What I attest to this sort of rebirth in my career [is that] I was extremely motivated. I was not happy with the way 2015 ended. I didn't take an offseason. I was in the gym five days a week. I was searching for any way to get back to my form. A lot of people helped in that process, from my nutrition to just weightlifting to get stronger and getting as fit as I could.
“I think it's paying off right now.”