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Mexico vs. United States Man of the Match: Omar Gonzalez

Mar 27, 2013, 1:10 AM EDT

FBL-WC2014-QUALIFIERS-MEX-USA

The conversation usually centers around Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, and when he’s available, Landon Donovan. Tim Howard also gets his due, but when discussion shifts the U.S. Men’s National Team’s best player, Omar Gonzalez’s name has never come up.

And that makes sense. Before tonight, he would have been seen as too inexperienced (five caps), too young (24), or just lacking the kind of international resume to sustain a place in the debate. He’s just recently become a first choice player in Jurgen Klinsmann’s XI. How can he be compared to Dempsey and Bradley?

But after Tuesday night’s performance against Mexico, you can you see a future where Omar Gonzalez is the U.S.’s best player. Because if he’s not the best player in the pool right now, he’s quickly becoming the most important.

(MORE: United States get big draw in Mexico)

Leading his team to a clean sheet at Azteca, Gonzalez gave a performance reminiscent of last December’s MLS Cup final. In Carson, Gonzalez dominated at the back and headed home the opening goal while leading the LA Galaxy to Major League Soccer’s crown.

He didn’t quite replicate that impact on Tuesday, but against a much higher level of competition, his contributions were just as notable.

As his fellow defenders Geoff Cameron, Matt Besler, and DeMarcus Beasley struggled through the first half hour, Gonzalez was there to bail them out, sweeping up as his teammates left space for Mexico to exploit. As the U.S. adjusted, Gonzalez was able to be even more decisive, providing decisive clearances both on the ground and in the air. With Mexico able to put in 20 crosses (to the U.S.’s eight), Gonzalez’s aerial prowess and role as the defense’s anchor was constantly tested.

Seven clearances, five recoveries, four interceptions, and a blocked shots – these are the stats that describe the individual performance. The main contribution, however, was seen on the scoreboard.

(MORE: Big result took a little luck)

To keep a clean sheet at Azteca, it was going to take some a great performance. As a team, the U.S.’s defense met that standard. As an individual? Gonzalez stood out.

Going forward, it remains to be seen how much this changes our perception of Gonzalez. Same with Brad Guzan. Same with Matt Besler, who looked strong over the last hour. Standout performances with the highest stakes tend to stick out in people’s minds.

For Gonzalez, he is already recognized as the best defender in Major League Soccer. He’s already become the only defender to win MVP at an MLS Cup final. His value to the star-laden Galaxy was proven during last season’s absence, and during his most recent time with the national team, he’s shown how much he’s progressed from the young, limited player who was exploited in his first international minutes.

(MORE: Time for Mexico to deal with their own crisis)

Omar Gonzalez is clearly no longer the player he once was. He may be the best defender Major League Soccer’s ever produced, and after Tuesday’s performance, we know he’s the most important defender in the pool.

The lingering question, after a dominant performance in the biggest match of his career: How good is he? It’s too early to say for sure, but if he’s capable of replicating tonight’s performance, then he’s the best the U.S. has got. Not best defender – best player.

  1. dws110 - Mar 27, 2013 at 10:43 AM

    On Feb. 6, you and every other soccer journalist in the country were ready to tar and feather Omar for what happened in San Pedro Sula. Now, you and every other soccer journalist in the country are ready to proclaim yesterday “Omar Gonzales Day”.

    Omar had a great game, take nothing away from that, but yesterday was more about Mexico not being very good than it was about the US scrounging a point.

    • Richard Farley - Mar 27, 2013 at 10:55 AM

      Wait: So we just get to randomly say stuff now? (Oh, it’s the Internet. We do.)

      Just re-read what we wrote after San Pedro Sula and … yeah, it wasn’t a tar and feathering, at all.

      He big mistakes there. We talked about them. He was huge last night. We’re talking about it.

  2. manchestermiracle - Mar 27, 2013 at 11:34 AM

    Galaxy fans know that Gonzalez is the anchor and the team’s fortunes depend on his play. Having playmakers like Donovan, Keane, Beckham, Magee, et.al., up front is important, but defense wins championships. While we are also nervous about the possibility of injury during non-MLS games, the experience he is getting playing against WC teams is priceless. Nice to see the man getting his due.

  3. bottlcaps - Mar 27, 2013 at 2:23 PM

    Such was Omar Gonzalez dominance in the air and especially in the box, is this one stat. Mexico had FIFTEEN corner kicks, and so demoralized were they in their failure to deliver the ball to Chcharito, that towards the end of regulation, they started to keep the corners on the ground and play them to the midfield hoping to go around and attack from the top of the box, but to little avail.

    • Richard Farley - Mar 27, 2013 at 2:24 PM

      Thanks for bringing this up. This morning it dawns on me that I had only mentioned the open play crosses, not the corners.

  4. crnelson10 - Mar 27, 2013 at 2:54 PM

    I think it was Jared Dubois on the Best Soccer Show that kept saying that as a Galaxy fan, he’s seen it time and time again with Omar. In his first game at a new level, he always looks a little out of his depth, but once that first game is out of the way, he dominates.

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