U.S. Soccer’s Omar Gonzalez on Tim Howard, World Cup, ESPN Body Issue
Omar Gonzalez is having a good summer. First, he was part of the 23-man United States Men's National Team Roster that miraculously made it out of the Group of Death at the 2014 World Cup. Shortly after returning a hero, he popped up in ESPN The Magazine's Body Issue. Plus, he starred in this hilarious MLS re-make of Ferris Bueller's Day Off. And now, Gonzalez is doing his part to help grow soccer in the United States.
"It's very nice to come home to, I think, a changed soccer country," the 6-5 central defender said last week at the Gatorade High School Athletes of the Year event in Los Angeles.
For Gonzalez, who turns 26 in October, the sport's been in his blood since his youngin' days. The son of Mexican parents, Gonzalez grew up playing soccer in Dallas, Texas and quickly drew enough attention to join the United States' Under-17 and Under-18 squads.
After winning the NCAA Men's Division I Soccer Championship with the University of Maryland in 2008, the L.A. Galaxy selected Gonzalez with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2009 MLS SuperDraft. Since, Gonzalez has played his entire professional career with the Galaxy, save for a brief, injury-plagued time on loan with German club Nürnberg in early 2012. And he's got plenty of hardware to his name, including MLS Rookie of the Year in '09, Defender of the Year in '11, a pair of MLS Cup Trophies and the MLS Cup MVP Award in 2012.
Most importantly, Gonzalez was a key member of this year's U.S. World Cup team, which captured the imagination of a country and, in his mind, is slowly but surely helping to change the way Americans view soccer. We caught up with OG in L.A. to get his thoughts on the World Cup run, what it means for his career and the sport at large, and what the hell Tim Howard eats for breakfast.
Right off top, I gotta ask you about being in the ESPN The Magazine Body issue — how did that all come about?
Well, obviously I got invited to be on it. I did a shoot for ESPN earlier in the year but I had underwear and cleats on and then they decided, "Well, maybe we should have him do the body issue." They didn’t release that picture and I got invited to be on the body issue. It was very cool and something I couldn’t turn down, something that’s once in a life time, so I decided to go with it.
Did you get any texts from teammates making fun of you when they saw those photos?
Yeah, we have this little wall of shame, so I’m sure my picture will end up on there. [Laughs]
What was the feeling after you guys lost to Belgium?
The feeling among the team heading back was... disappointed would be one of them. Also proud. I think disappointed because we didn’t get as far as we could have, but proud because we left everything out on that field, and I hope fans really see that we gave it everything. We didn’t give up, we almost won it in the end and we left with our heads held high and not to many people we upset about it.
Did you watch the rest of the World Cup? What was that experience like?
Yes, I did watch the rest of the World Cup, but things were a little hectic here when I got home so, I wasn’t like really like, Oh, when's the next game so I can drop everything. You know, just starting to get things back in order here. I definitely watched the final and the games leading up. It was a really amazing experience for myself and really amazing to see the talented teams that were there because any game you would watch you wouldn’t know who was gonna win, it was that intense. It was a beautiful month for soccer.
What about Germany winning the whole thing? Obviously you guys got a taste of them in the group stage. Do you feel like they were the team that deserved to win?
I wanted Germany to win because they were in our group. It shows how tough our group was. Having the winner come from your group, if you can’t win it all, then you want the team that’s from your group. They’re a really talented team and I can’t say enough about those guys, they played well every single game and they got the job done.
Tim Howard, man. What is it about that dude that makes him so special?
Tim Howard is a great guy. From the time I’ve been able to know him, man, he’s light off the field, he likes to joke around but when its time to play he’s serious. That’s what makes him a great goalkeeper, his commitment, the way he communicates off the field, it’s world class and he showed everyone what he’s all about and people love him.
On a personal level, how do you feel this World Cup experience set you up for the next World Cup, and the rest of your career?
I think this World Cup, for m,e was the best experience of my life. I would have liked to go to the final, but once we lost, I was happy to get back home and return to the Galaxy. I'm just looking forward to winning some more championships with them — I like to live in the present, so whatever comes from this World Cup experience, let it come. But as of right now, I’m committed to the Galaxy and I can’t wait to suit up for them again.
What’s it like to be around the next generation of great American athletes tonight at the Gatorade Athlete of the Year event?
I’ll tell you what, I’m very impressed. We got to hang out with them before the ceremony started and got to chat it up with them, and all of them are so humble and so easy to talk too. That’s what impressed me the most, we got inside and saw some of their highlights and I was even more impressed. I can say that the future of our favorite respective sports are in good hands and I wish them all the best, considering the players that have come through before and how successful they are, I’m sure we’ll be saying their names down the road.