Los Angeles Soccer: MLS Humanitarian of the Year
CARSON -- He was Major League Soccer's Rookie of the Year in 2009, a Best XI selection last year, and now he's MLS's Defender of the Year.
What more does Omar Gonzalez need to do to make the U.S. national team?
That question was posed to the Galaxy's 6-foot-5 Texan just a few minutes after word came down that he'd won the league's top defensive honor, and Gonzalez, who has made it clear he wants to play for Jurgen Klinsmann, didn't flinch.
“I have no idea,” he said. “I haven't talked to the coaches at all. I'm just worried about winning this MLS Cup and worrying about getting better. I think if I worry about the right things, good things will come. I just have to keep on getting better, and, hopefully, they will notice.”
MLS's best-defender honor, richly reserved, is a good thing, “another step in his development,” in coach Bruce Arena's words, and reward for everyone else whose contributions gave L.A. the league's best record, with fewest goals conceded and 17 shutouts, tying the MLS regular-season mark.
“He deserves it. He's been our rock this year,” said veteran center back/assistant coach Gregg Berhalter, Gonzalez's primary mentor in his first three years as a pro. “Add to it the offensive quality, in scoring the goals, and his dominance in the air and his presence and the type of year he's had. I'm really proud of him. He's come a long way.
“And not only that, his consistency has been there this year. That's the one thing that's improved from last year. He's been steady the whole year. ... We're excited for him, we're extremely proud of him, and it's a great honor for all of us that he won.”
Gonzalez, who will lead the Galaxy backline in the Nov. 20 MLS Cup final against Houston at Home Depot Center, outpointed fellow finalists Jamison Olave and Nat Borchers, both from Real Salt Lake. The same trio was up for the award last year, and Olave won it.
“I was pretty pumped about it,” he said. “This is a huge award, and it's a great accolade for me personally, to be in my third year here in this league. ... I put a lot of hard work into going into this year, and the hard work paid off, and I'm just really excited and happy that I won this.”
Gonzalez, a first-round draft pick in 2009 out of Maryland, made an impact from his first day in the league, with his size and earnestness, but under Berhalter's and the Galaxy staff's tutelage he has evolved into a multilayered defender whose physical tools have been amplified by a growing facility with the ball -- he and Berhalter worked together on technical areas during the offseason -- and a broader understanding of the game and its tactics.