Gonzalez shines in return to U.S. starting lineup

The defender stepped back into the U.S. national team starting lineup Thursday against Germany, and played well enough to remind us just how good he can be.
RECIFE, Brazil — It was halftime of the biggest game of his career, but you wouldn’t have guessed it by watching Omar Gonzalez. As a television camera outside the team locker room zoomed in on Gonzalez as he stood waiting for the second half, Gonzalez playfully turned to the camera with a model’s glare — a la Zoolander — before cracking up at the moment of levity.

Perhaps Gonzalez was feeling good about having just played an impressive first half in his first World Cup start. Getting the nod in place of Geoff Cameron, Gonzalez overcame some early nerves to partner with Matt Besler in a 1-0 loss that nevertheless saw the Americans through to the last 16 of the World Cup.

“Omar did terrific,” Besler said of a center back partner he knows very well. “He had a huge game, especially in the first half. He had three or four clearances for us that were very, very big. He was always in the right spot and I think our communication was very good throughout the entire match.”

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Gonzalez began with a nervous moment as a German cross whipped into the penalty area in his direction and he missed when attempting to kick out. The ball bounced past him and out of danger.

“Those things happen. No one has a perfect game,” Gonzalez said. “It’s what you do after you do have a little hiccup. That was a little scare, but you move on and you look towards the next play, and that’s exactly what I did. And I look to keep on making little plays.”

Klinsmann’s decision to start Gonzalez came as a bit of a surprise given Cameron’s ascent into a starting role. But with Cameron coming off a poor showing against Portugal, and Klinsmann wanting to bring in some fresh legs, Gonzalez earned the call for his first World Cup appearance.

“We wanted to give (Cameron) a break. We don’t have the luxury to say all the players are going to go every four days and be at the highest level,” Klinsmann said. “We felt with two or three subs, with Brad Davis coming in for Alejandro (Bedoya) and also having Omar come in, is for us very important because down the road you will have these players who need to come in and do the job.”

Gonzalez lost his starting job during pre-World Cup training camp, with Cameron stepping and taking advantage of a knee injury that Gonzalez carried into camp.

“I think my little injury let Cameron in and Jurgen was showing a lot of confidence in Cameron," Gonzalez said. "Things change, and now since I got my opportunity, I definitely wanted to make the most of it.”

Gonzalez did just that, providing an aerial presence to deal with Germany’s many threats, while also cutting out a handful of dangerous German passes.

Overall, Gonzalez was steady and avoided the mental lapses that have plagued his game with the national team over the course of the past year. He clearly appeared to gain confidence as the match went on, and looked every bit the World Cup starter he was expected to be just a few short months ago.

“I’m at a World Cup, and playing against Germany, can’t get much better than this,” Gonzalez said. “Hopefully we can make it better by winning the next game.”

As for that halftime moment with the TV camera?

“During that moment, you’re just trying to find little ways to relax, and keep things light,” Gonzalez said. “I want to be serious on the field, but off the field just stay loose.”