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So Long, LA: Analyzing Omar Gonzalez’s Decision To Leave MLS

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The USMNT and ex-LA Galaxy centerback is on his way to C.F. Pachuca in Mexico. Here’s why he might eventually regret making the switch.

On Tuesday, the Los Angeles Galaxy made an announcement that took fans of both the club and the United States Men’s National Team completely by surprise: centerback Omar Gonzalez had been sold for an undisclosed fee to C.F. Pachuca in Mexico’s Liga MX.

Drafted third overall by the Galaxy back in 2009, Gonzalez quickly made a name for himself in the world of American soccer. He was voted Major League Soccer’s Rookie of the Year in his debut campaign, and made his first international appearance against Brazil the following year. Over the next few seasons, Gonzalez helped the Galaxy win three MLS Cup titles (2011, 2012, 2014), was named to the league’s Best XI four times (2010, 2011, 2013, 2014), and was chosen as the MLS Defender of the Year in 2011. In addition, he has been a key member of USMNT’s back line for the past few years, registering 29 caps overall.

A star for his club and a staple for his country, Gonzalez seemed to be one of the American players least likely to want a change of scenery. His club, the LA Galaxy, are one of the top organizations in arguably the world’s fastest growing professional soccer league. On top of all that, the 27-year-old defender was reportedly making $1.45 million per year, making him the highest paid defender in MLS.

So why would Gonzalez leave the bright lights of Los Angeles? He released a personal statement on the day of the transfer via his Twitter account, but it is no more than another typically broad but heartfelt farewell message like those we are accustomed to reading whenever an athlete switches teams:

Though he has not provided much of an explanation, Gonzalez’s Mexican heritage most likely influenced his decision heavily. Both of his parents are Mexican by birth, but he was born in Dallas, Texas. Also, while he was in Mexico with the USMNT preparing for their World Cup Qualifier match against El Tri back in 2013, Gonzalez said, ”I still have maybe half of my family that lives in Monterrey, Mexico, and I have a lot of ties here and I’m very proud to be Mexican.” 

In this context, Gonzalez’s decision makes a bit more sense. Wanting to connect more deeply with the country of his parents’ birth is certainly understandable, and he has the right to do so. Playing in Mexico for Pachuca will be an entirely different experience, but it is the one he has chosen.

The worry for fans of Gonzalez and of the USMNT is that this new venture to Mexico will prove detrimental to the defender’s career, and subsequently jeopardize his future with the national team. The thing is, there is some evidence to suggest that it could. Gonzalez needs to impress USMNT manager Jürgen Klinsmann in the next couple of years leading up to the 2018 World Cup, and this move to Pachuca could hurt his chances.

Most concerning is the fact that Gonzalez’s new club, C.F. Pachuca (known affectionately as Loz Tuzos, “The Gophers”), appear inferior to the LA Galaxy in almost every respect. Whereas the Galaxy have won three MLS titles in the past five years, Pachuca have not captured a Liga MX crown since 2007. In the most recent Liga MX “Apertura” season, they finished 13th out of 18 teams with a final record of 6-3-8 (W/D/L). This type of performance is less than reassuring to those who are already skeptical of Gonzalez’s choice in clubs.

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Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

This disparity becomes even greater when you compare the clubs’ rosters. Of the two teams, the Galaxy boast far superior personnel. Ever since their well-documented signing of English legend David Beckham back in 2007, the Galaxy have garnered a reputation as the league’s premier recruiter of top players. The LA club currently field multiple well-known stars, such as English midfielder Steven Gerrard, Irish forward Robbie Keane, and Mexican forward Giovani dos Santos. They also have one of the USMNT’s best up and coming young attacking talents, forward Gyasi Zardes. Clearly, manager Bruce Arena has a plethora of talent at his disposal.

On the flip side, Pachuca have basically no noteworthy names to speak of. Their squad is predominantly Mexican (19 of 29 first-team players), and they are not exactly among Mexico’s finest; the club have only had one of their players capped for the Mexican national side in the past year, that being defender Miguel Ángel Herrera. 

It is this lack of established talent on the Pachuca roster that makes Gonzalez’s decision particularly risky. They say that iron sharpens iron, and this holds especially true in sports. Gonzalez is effectively giving up playing in Los Angeles alongside the likes of Gerrard and Zardes in order to join a group of unexceptional Pachuca players, most of whom are not even good enough to make their national team. Klinsmann is on record as saying that he wants his players to be playing at the highest level possible. While he in the past has directed this critique at MLS, Pachuca would seem to be a step down even further.

It is also worth noting that a significant portion of the USMNT plays for clubs in MLS, including players such as forward Clint Dempsey of the Seattle Sounders, centerback Matt Besler of Sporting Kansas City, and both striker Jozy Altidore and midfielder Michael Bradley of Toronto FC. With the LA Galaxy, Gonzalez has been playing with and against many of his national team comrades. While he will not be the only USMNT member to play in Liga MX, he will be the only American on Pachuca’s roster. This withdrawal from MLS, and to a certain extent from American soccer culture, could have a negative effect on Gonzalez’s chemistry with his fellow USMNT players.

Gonzalez’s decision to swap the LA Galaxy for C.F. Pachuca must have been a very personal one. His family’s roots lie in Mexico, so a chance to play the sport he loves in front of them in their home country would be difficult to pass up. Hopefully, Gonzalez will thrive in his new environment and continue to progress as a player for both his club and his country. 

Nevertheless, he could come to regret this transfer. Pachuca simply is not as good a club as the Galaxy, and MLS is significantly more connected to the USMNT than Liga MX. Gonzalez might find himself on the outside looking in when the USA’s World Cup roster is set in 2018, his status as a USMNT regular weakened as a result of his move to Mexico. Only time will tell.


Edited by Emily Berman.

SQuiz
Which NCAA school did Omar Gonzalez play for collegiately?
Created 12/23/15
  1. Maryland
  2. UCLA
  3. Texas
  4. Duke

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