Skip to content

Mistakes mean progress for emerging Omar Gonzalez

Jun 12, 2013, 2:48 AM EDT

Omar Gonzalez AP

SEATTLE — A late save on a Luis Tejada chance, and Tim Howard had preserved another United States shutout, their third in five qualifiers. The goal would have been meaningless, the States already two up by the time Panama generated their best chance of the match, but it was another instance when defender Omar Gonzalez saw an error ruin what would have otherwise been a standout night.

“For most of the night, I thought that we did pretty well,” Gonzalez said after the U.S.’s victory. “There was that chance at the end, but that’s why you have Tim Howard – to make those saves in case they do get behind.”

While Howard did show his quality, defenders don’t get credit for needing their goalkeeper to bail them out. For Gonzalez, the moment fits a pattern that started with his first start in Honduras, his mistakes in the U.S.’s Hex opener contributing to a 2-1 loss. Slowly, those mistakes have become less meaningful, but for a player that regularly dominates long stretches of play, the errors stand in stark contrast to play that would otherwise place him among CONCACAF’s elite.

“Hopefully there comes a point soon where I put in a good, solid 90 minutes with no mistakes and help this team win,” Gonzalez said, still lamenting the Tejada chance while managing to stay positive about his overall performance.

And Gonzalez has plenty to be positive about. As the U.S.’s right center half, he had the responsibility of supporting right back Brad Evans, a man targeted by Panama from the match’s opening moments. Runs behind the natural midfielder by left wing Alberto Quintero and left back Carlos Rodriguez would have found early success, but to Gonzalez’s credit, Panama was never able to threaten Howard through Evans..

“They were going after Brad quite a bit,” Gonzalez conceded, asked to assess how he adjusted to the tactic. “I just wanted to make sure [Evans had] enough cover there. There were a couple of times that guy got around Brad, but I thought he and I both did well to get around the ball and make sure that [Panama] didn’t make the play.”

Run your mind over the rest of the U.S. player pool, and it’s difficult to come up with another player capable of providing that kind of protection. And in the 37th minute, as he reacted to a give-and-go at the top of the U.S. area, Gonzalez gave fans a perfect example of why, despite his momentary lapses, he remains the team’s top defender. Picking off Tejada’s pass and playing it into midfield, Gonzalez quickly defused what has been Panama’s most promising moment.

Not coincidentally, the fact Jurgen Klinsmann has been so forgiving of Gonzalez’s errors enables those kind of plays. Confident enough to force the pass while smart enough to read the ensuing play, Gonzalez eventually won the ball. Had be been more risk averse, he may have merely elected to keep the play in front of him and hope to block a shot.

“It just helps me personally to settle down a little bit and know that if I do make a mistake, it’s fine,” Gonzalez said of Klinsmann’s approach. “You learn from it, and you just try to forget about it as quick as possible.

“And (you) keep trying those things, because if you don’t try it, then you’re not going to get any better … [Klinsmann's approach] gives every player that much more confidence to do something on the field.”

In aggregate, the results have been convincing. Gonzalez is the only defender to play every minute in qualifying’s final round, a stage that’s seen the U.S. give up only three goals in five games. If that’s with a Gonzalez that’s still coming into his own on the international stage, how good will the team be once the 24-year-old finishes his adjustment?

“There have been a lot of situations in a short period of time,” Gonzalez says, talking about being throw into the fire during the Hex. “I’ve been [putting] a lot of information in my head. Take the good stuff. And the bad stuff that happens, just forget about that.

“Like the Belgium game, things like that. I think all those are learning experiences. I’m feeling a little bit more comfortable with every game.”

It’s the kind of confession fans may not want to hear from their first choice defender, somebody who’d ideally be the unit’s most stalwart performer and leader. But while his ever-present role in final round qualifying hints at that stature, Gonzalez is not ready to call himself the group’s leading man.

“I don’t know if it [I am], but I’m happy to keep on playing,” was Gonzalez’s response when asked if he’s become the de facto leader in defense. “I’m happy to be stepping on the field and contributing to these performances.

“We’re one step closer to qualifying for the World Cup. I’m just really happy to be out there and a part of something that’s bigger than myself – just getting it done.”

Latest Posts
  1. Galatasaray’s 3-D Tifo has demanded all others to step their game up

    Oct 22, 2014, 11:04 PM EDT

    Screen Shot 2014-10-22 at 10.48.58 PM

    How did the Galatasaray supporters pull off this Tifo before Wednesday’s match against Borussia Dortmund? How?!?

  2. Thursday’s Europa League preview: Spurs go Greek, Everton faces Lille

    Oct 22, 2014, 10:10 PM EDT

    Britain Soccer Europa League AP

    The pair of Premier League clubs remaining in the competition face quite different tests on Thursday.

  3. PST’s MLS Rookie of the Year: Shipp, Hagglund, Akindele or Birnbaum?

    Oct 22, 2014, 9:25 PM EDT

    Nick Hagglund; Michael Bradley AP

    Perhaps it isn’t the sexiest year for rookies in Major League Soccer, but there’s a quartet of names set to stick around for a while.

  4. Arsene Wenger: We went big and it paid off against Anderlecht

    Oct 22, 2014, 8:30 PM EDT

    Belgium Soccer Champions League AP

    “I had hope, it maybe didn’t look like it, but it happened,” Wenger said.

  5. It’s official: World No. 3 Colombia to face USMNT in London on Nov. 14

    Oct 22, 2014, 7:23 PM EDT

    James Rodriguez AP

    “So overall, it’s a squad with a lot of experience playing at the highest level, and this will be another great benchmark for us,” Klinsmann said.

  6. Brendan Rodgers remarks on Balotelli and Pepe’s halftime shirt swap

    Oct 22, 2014, 6:30 PM EDT

    Britain Soccer Champions League AP

    Of course many are claiming this “is the beginning of end” for Balotelli on Merseyside. That seems a bit much.

  7. VIDEO: Top 10 goals of the MLS season (heading into the final weekend)

    Oct 22, 2014, 5:40 PM EDT

    Erik Hurtado AP

    Here’s the bar, Week 33 of Major League Soccer: Please feel free to raise it.

  8. UEFA Champions League roundup: Madrid clubs, Borussia Dortmund roll

    Oct 22, 2014, 4:47 PM EDT

    Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, AP

    We are at the halfway point in Groups A-D, and some English clubs are concerned about their fortunes to be sure.

  9. Three things we learned as Real Madrid rout Liverpool

    Oct 22, 2014, 4:41 PM EDT

    It was a night to forget for the home side, as Real ruled at Anfield. Here’s what we learned.

  10. Arsenal’s Podolski, Gibbs break Belgian hearts in left-for-late win

    Oct 22, 2014, 4:36 PM EDT

    Belgium Soccer Champions League AP

    The 21-year-old Honduran international did what a dangerous Alexis Sanchez couldn’t, but Arsenal was rescued late.

  11. Michel Platini denies making ebola comments which angered African Confederation

    Oct 22, 2014, 2:54 PM EDT

    Platini Getty Images

    The CAF claimed Platini said something he didn’t, and it hurt his feelings.

  12. Setting the scene at Anfield, as Liverpool host Real Madrid in UEFA Champions League

    Oct 22, 2014, 2:14 PM EDT

    FBL-EUR-C1-LIVERPOOL-REALMADRID FBL-EUR-C1-LIVERPOOL-REALMADRID

    Here’s what it’s like at Anfield, as Liverpool host Real Madrid in the UEFA Champions League.

  13. FOLLOW LIVE – Champions League returns for Wednesday slate

    Oct 22, 2014, 1:58 PM EDT

    Ronaldo Getty Images

    With yesterday’s goal frenzy, will today give us the same excitement?

  14. Robinho being investigated for sexually assaulting teenager

    Oct 22, 2014, 1:34 PM EDT

    Robinho Getty Images

    This is the second time Robinho is under investigation for such an alleged incident.

  15. David Villa’s time in Australia could be up already

    Oct 22, 2014, 12:17 PM EDT

    Villa Getty Images

    NYCFC’s first Designated Player will be returning to the United States to fulfill commercial and marketing obligations, and it’s unclear whether he will make his way back to Australia to finish out his loan.

  16. WATCH: Geoff Cameron says he’s fighting for a central position

    Oct 22, 2014, 11:36 AM EDT

    Cameron Getty Images

    Now that he’s back from a hernia problem, the American told Stoke’s YouTube channel that he is no longer a right-back and the club is aware of where he wants to play.

  17. Men in Blazers podcast: Whiplash from QPR-Liverpool, Klinsmann-Garber, plus Josh Lambo

    Oct 22, 2014, 10:51 AM EDT

    meninblazers

    Rog and Davo gain whiplash from QPR-Liverpool, and the Jurgen Klinsmann-Don Garber saga.

  18. Portland Timbers out of CONCACAF CL after loss in Honduras

    Oct 22, 2014, 9:20 AM EDT

    TimbersOlimpia Getty Images

    The MLS side was eliminated from group stage play on an away goals tiebreaker as Honduran side Olimpia goes through.

Featured video

PST Extra: Can United beat Chelsea?