CARSON -- Omar Gonzalez is at peace with his injury, even if it's going to force him to miss the bulk (and perhaps all) of the Galaxy's campaign this year.
Fact is, he has been fine with the news that he'll be sidelined a likely seven to nine months because of a torn anterior cruciate ligament since the moment it happened in his first training session of a short-term loan deal to Germany's FC Nuremberg.
“I really wasn't sad about it for too long,” Major League Soccer's reigning Defender of the Year said Thursday in his first media session since suffering the injury Jan. 5 and undergoing surgery eight days later. “I think maybe the German guys thought I was a little weird, because they were telling me, like, something's really wrong, and I was still smiling. ...
“I'm keeping my spirits up and just thinking of it as it happened for a reason, and I'm taking this time just to take a mental break from the sport and just enjoy my time and really just take the time to appreciate actually playing and getting ready to come back.”
Gonzalez, 23, likely will be out until at least mid-August and possibly not until the MLS playoffs begin in November. He'll not only miss most or all of the Galaxy's bid for a third straight Supporters' Shield, but also the knockout phase of the current CONCACAF Champions League (with the Galaxy seeking a regional title and berth in December's FIFA Club World Cup) and possibly the first stage of next year's edition, which will begin mid-to-late summer.
That's a lot of big games, and it might prod a player to try to rush rehab to return as quickly as possible. Not Gonzalez.
“I'm thinking more of a long-term career thing here, not just about this year,” he said. “If I'm back sooner than [seven to nine months], great. If not, then, you know, it's for the best. I'm not really trying to put too much pressure on me, I'm just waiting to see how my body reacts to everything, and if I'm back sooner, great. I would love to be back on the field with these guys.”
David Beckham agrees with the approach.
“He's progressing pretty well, but I think it's important he comes along slowly,” the star midfielder said. “Injuries like that, you've got to be careful. If you rush back too soon, then it can set you back. He's a strong kid, he's got age on his side, so he'll be good.”
Gonzalez had left the U.S. national team's camp in Arizona to join Nuremberg, a club looking to bring the tall Texan in on a full-time basis come summer, at its winter-break camp in Turkey. He was excited for the opportunity -- a first step toward an inevitable full-time move to Europe -- and “felt good, I was fit, I was ready.”
A collision with Germany born U.S. national team defender Timmy Chandler took out his left knee.
“There was no pain. I didn't feel a 'pop,' I just felt my quad twist to the left,” Gonzalez said. “I didn't think it twisted that far, so I just thought maybe it was a sprain or something. I've never done anything like that, so it was a surprise, really. Obviously, it tore.”
The injury ends Nuremberg's chase this summer, but the club is still interested. Perhaps next year's winter transfer window.
“[Playing in Europe] is something I want to happen,” he said. “It's just now, after this injury, I just got to take everything one day at a time and not look too much into the future. Just live in the now and just worry about doing well every day and make sure I'm healthy.”
Gonzalez's absence leaves a huge hole in the Galaxy's backline -- it's the only major concern in an otherwise standout lineup -- and replacing him won't be easy, especially with Brazilian Leonardo, the likely fill-in, still rehabbing his torn ACL from last season.
A.J. DeLaGarza, Gonzalez's old roommate/teammate at the University of Maryland, will take the leadership role in the middle. The other slot could go to rookie Tommy Meyer. Gonzalez has faith in both.
“I have no worries about A.J.,” he said. “He's always done good stepping into these roles. When I was at Maryland, he was a guy who was already leading the team. He's very experienced at that, and he's a guy you can always count on. So there's no worries there.”
Meyer, an end-of-first-round SuperDraft pick from Indiana, has done well paired with DeLaGarza in the first four preseason matches, but neither featured in Thursday's 3-2 win over Chivas USA.
Gonzalez's rehab schedule has him at Home Depot Center just twice a week.
“I haven't really gotten to know the young guys, but when I do come in, I try to have at least a little conversation,” he said. “One guy I've been trying to connect with a lot is Tommy, trying to see where he's at and how he's dealing with things. Last night I took him to dinner, and we talked about a couple things. He's doing really well now, and he's loving it.”
Gonzalez says he thinks the Galaxy will be fine without him.
“It's such a long season. Even if things might not go the right way in the beginning of the season, it's going to be fine,” he said. “These guys are going to figure it out. All these players are really talented, and we brought these players in for a good reason, and that's because they're quality.
“And so the young guys might have their lapses, but, hey, you know, who doesn't have their lapses. I've had them. A.J.'s had them. The best of the best have had them. It's up to us around [the replacement] to make sure when things do go wrong, to be theree for him and make sure to feel good about these things.
“I'm pretty sure everyone's going to do well.”