By Hugo Chavez
With Pride, the Mexican American center back Omar Gonzalez talks about his parents who were born in Mexico and the very Mexican household in which he was raised in the United States, a home in which TV was often on to watch the Mexican league and El Tri matches.
However, since his early years, Omar knew that his heartbeat had stars and stripes all over it and therefore his desire was to represent and play for the country in which he was born and raised.
Very few things are as ironic as a father professing and teaching his love for a team to his heir, and ultimately his son opting to support the bitter rival. But as good loving parents, Mr. & Mrs. Gonzalez ended up supporting the US national team when their youngest son dream came true once he was called-up to the U-17 squad.
That is why Omar knows better than most players, what the CONCACAF biggest rivalry represents, what a US vs. Mexico means, being that he has experienced and lived both cultures at a personal level, pretty much during his whole life.
“Mexico is always comparing themselves to the US. They try to beat us in anything that we compete in. Through history, these games have always been crazy with fights, with red cards, crazy tackles…it’s a game that everyone loves to watch and for players you always want to be a part of it, and that’s not going to change,” said Gonzalez.
When the conversation sparks regarding the World Cup qualifiers match coming up on November 11 to be played in Ohio, he is certainly a guy who knows what it is all about, given that he grew up watching how the mythical Dos-A-Cero was forged in the cold Columbus, qualifier after qualifier. Until he was a part of it himself in the most recent episode of the rivalry during qualifiers on the road to Brazil 2014, where the 2-0 score repeated itself once again.
“It was an honor and an amazing opportunity to represent our country, playing the biggest game that we have, for us, on American soil,” said the more than six feet tall center back from the game played in 2013.
Despite the recent history, Omar isn’t overconfident, given that he is well aware what the two countries football environments are thinking.
“Even though we have won 2-0 there (Columbus, Ohio) plenty of times, all that stuff it’s just noise, for me. I know it plays a big part on the minds of the Mexican players, but as much as you want to talk about ‘oh, we’ve won 2-0; we’re probably going to win 2-0 again’; no, they’re going to come here and they’re going to play hard, they’re going to make it hard for us, and we’ve got to be ready,” said the defender who played college soccer at the University of Maryland.
If there is someone with an authorized voice that can speak today with contemporary validity of soccer in both the United States and Mexico, it has to be Omar Gonzalez, a champion in MLS and in Liga MX.
The Texas native won everything in MLS as a star and a key player of a world star-studded LA Galaxy. When he conquered his second of three MLS Cups in his resume, it wasn’t David Beckham, Landon Donovan, or Robbie Keane who came through for the galactic squad during its toughest moment in the final, it was Gonzalez.
That performance won him recognition and among other things, a Designated Player contract – the first one of its kind for an American defender in the league. It also set eyes on him from across the border.
“He’s easy to identify, a guy who’s almost two meters, Mexican, center back with great conditions, it’s an obvious target for us. We pursued him for many years,” Marco Garces, Pachuca’s Sporting Director, admits.
Many agree on that Gonzalez’s consolidation with the USMNT that Jürgen Klinsmann manages happened precisely in a match against Mexico. A game played early during the 2013 Hex, when the US visited the monumental Aztec Stadium and came out with a historic 0-0 draw due to an unforgettable defensive display by Omar.
Surely it was then that the directors from the club based in the Mexican State of Hidalgo were fully convinced that it was worth the effort to sign the Galaxy footballer, a transfer that was materialized on December 2015.
Maybe it was faith that was taking him to the land of his parents, maybe it was just as the popular Latin-American saying: “the blood calls” – in this case meaning his Mexican blood heritage was attracting him back to his ancestors’ origin. Perhaps it was just mere coincidence, but certainly the winds of change took him from the breeze of the Californian beaches to the “Bella Airosa” (Beautiful Airy City).
And since life is a constant irony, while Los Angeles is the city with the second largest population of Mexican origin and it is presumed that it is a multicultural hotspot, Gonzalez found in Pachuca a place to fill-up with culture and diversity which he was lacking of in his suburban life in California.
Even though he has moved to another country, in a way, it was like being at home, not because of his family genes, but because of the family environment that Pachuca carries as an institutional philosophy.
“The family environment is really important to this club. And being a family man myself, it was really important that coming to Pachuca that that was one of the key things of this club,” said Gonzalez, who played at the 2014 World Cup and is now the father of two infant daughters.
At the “Cuna del Futbol Mexicano” (Mexican football birthplace), Omar has been living far away from the LA glamour and instead in the heart warming home life that he has deep rooted due to the example he had at his home when he was a child.
“It’s just been really great quality time [with my family], and I’ve loved every single second of it. The distractions aren’t there, that were in LA. So what I do is, I get the job done at work and I come home and it’s just pure family time,” said Omar, who had a fantastic year on the pitch.
At 27 years old, he didn’t arrive to learn with the Tuzos, he went there to be a leader, an example, and a mainstream. He went there to win, and he quickly achieved success as a fundamental player in the Tuzos back line that was key in Pachuca conquering its sixth league championship after beating Monterrey in the Clausura 2016 final.
“He came to give an important stability to the team, to the back line. The tournament before [he came over] we had struggled a little bit in defense. I think he had no problem incorporating,” the seasoned Tuzos goalie Oscar “Conejo” Perez acknowledged.
Beyond performing a fantastic role as a Kaiser to become a Liga MX champion – and in the process becoming only the second American to win both MLS and Liga MX – his aptitudes as a professional athlete and the responsible leader role he assumed with the numerous young players of the professional roster and the youth system talents have won him high praise even among the most veterans, as is the case of legendary “Conejo” Perez.
Perez, who’s 43 years old, was the Mexican goalkeeper who suffered the sweetest 2-0 of them all in the history of US Soccer, in which a very young Landon Donovan nailed the final blow against El Tri in the Round of 16 during the 2002 World Cup. Back then, Gonzalez was a 13 year old boy, his father surely was still rooting for Mexico while his son was dreaming about wearing the stars and stripes jersey. Unbelievably, “Conejo” sees in Omar, who is 15 years younger than him, a role model in the way he manages his professional career.
“He came transmitting that passion with which he always plays with, the passion with which he gives his all. Always very professional. Always arrives very early for his preventive workout. He is a great professional and that motivates all of us and sets the example for us of how one should manage his football career,” Perez said.
Omar Gonzalez is a sponge that absorbs the best of two worlds, of two very distinct cultures, of two different styles of soccer, in a very unique way that has kept him on the victorious path.