González's year-long journey brings him back to U.S. national team
HOUSTON -- There were times a year ago when Omar González thought this day would never come. The 2011 MLS Defender of the Year, a towering 6-foot-5 center back, had torn an ACL last January during a trial with Germany's Nuremberg, and all sorts of thoughts were running through his mind.
"Some days when I wouldn't be feeling so good I was like, 'Man, this is terrible, I'm not going to be the same player,'" González said.
Instead of trialing at Nuremberg or training with the U.S. national team last January, González, now 24, hobbled around Utah at the Sundance Film Festival and thought about his rehab.
But now, one year later, he's ready -- and, by his estimation, in better shape than ever. González made an impressive recovery in 2012, rejoining the Los Angeles Galaxy in midseason and winning the MLS Cup final MVP award in L.A.'s 3-1 win over Houston. On Tuesday, González is expected to make his long-awaited U.S. return under coach Jurgen Klinsmann in a friendly here against Canada (9 p.m. ET, ESPN2/3, Univision Deportes).
Neither team has its first-choice squad since the game is taking place outside the FIFA international calendar. But for González and six to eight other U.S. players, the game presents an opportunity to win a spot on the plane to Honduras for next week's important final-round World Cup qualifying opener. These U.S. players are hoping to repeat the journeys of Geoff Cameron and Graham Zusi, who turned success in last year's January camp into starting spots with the A-squad by year's end.
Now González's injury seems like it happened a long time ago.
"I think I've come back stronger and better and more mentally sound as a person and player," he said Monday.
González has been pairing for much of the last three weeks of training with Matt Besler, the Kansas City player who won the 2012 MLS Defender of the Year award. And while González said Klinsmann and his coaching staff have kept things simple so far in their defensive instructions, he feels like the past three weeks have gone well.
"He just wants us to be really connected in the back line, shifting and being really organized," González said. "That's what we focused on a lot in this camp. Hopefully we can put it all together [Tuesday] and show we're learning from what he's teaching us. Maybe after that he can start giving us some more things like playing a higher line or an offside trap if that's what he wants."
Canada may or may not provide much of a test -- its young squad was overwhelmed 4-0 by Denmark on Saturday -- so it would be wise not to take too much from the result Tuesday. But this is still a big opportunity for several U.S. players who'd like to get into the mix during an important year of 10 World Cup qualifiers.
It's tough to guess the starting lineup, considering all the options, but here's my best shot:
Sean Johnson; Tony Beltrán, Omar González, Matt Besler, Alfredo Morales; Kyle Beckerman; Graham Zusi, Benny Feilhaber, Brad Davis; Eddie Johnson, Chris Wondolowski.
If González does enough to earn a spot on the squad for Honduras -- and I think he will -- then he might even be in the mix to start down in San Pedro Sula next week. It's also possible that he could be joined on the roster by German-based Timmy Chandler, who happened to be the Nuremberg player who collided with González on the play that caused his knee injury last year.
There were no hard feelings toward Chandler.
"It was just a little nudge in the back," González said. "It was more unlucky. I haven't talked to him about it. It wasn't his fault."
In fact, it's possible both González and Chandler, 22, could get cap-tied to the U.S. in the near future. González is eligible for Mexico and Chandler for Germany, but if they play in an official game for the U.S., the two important back-line prospects will be tied to the Stars & Stripes forever. And while the main goal in the next 10 days is earning points on the way to Brazil 2014, getting González and Chandler on board for good would be a nice side benefit.