BY ADAM SERRANO
CARSON, Calif. — It is impossible not to notice the smile on Omar Gonzalez as he watches the Los Angeles Galaxy on the training field.
Gonzlez's sunny demeanour is surprising because one would think that he has very little to smile about.
On January 5th, Gonzalez joined FC Nuremberg on an offseason loan, but before he could finish his first training session for the Bundesliga club, disaster struck. After his first training session with Nuremberg, Gonzalez collided with fellow U.S. international Timmy Chandler, resulting in a torn ACL that will sideline the regining MLS defender of the year for six to nine months.
While an extended injury lay off might have depressed other players, Gonzalez has remained upbeat throughout the recovery process.
“I really wasn't sad about it for too long I think maybe the German guys thought I was a little weird, because they were telling me, like, something is really wrong, and I was still smiling," Gonzalez told reporters earlier this week. "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."
Apart from the Gonzalez's injury, the Galaxy have enjoyed a stellar offseason returning forward Edson Buddle and midfielder Juninho back to the fold. Regardless of the success, finding Gonzalez's replacement was considered by many to be priority number one for head coach Bruce Arena.
But after being linked to defenders from Central America, South America, Europe and all points in-between, Arena is comfortable going into the season with their current crop of defenders.
"I don't anticipate any roster changes," said Arena. "The only thing that changes is that there is going to be fewer players, not more players, but having said that things can happen. So we'll just have to wait and see."
The Galaxy deciding to stand pat with their defense, Gonzalez's long-time defensive partner AJ DeLaGarza has been asked to step up as a leader in the back four.
“I have no worries about A.J. He's always done good stepping into these roles," said Gonzalez. "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.”
One of the players fighting for Gonzalez's spot beside DeLaGarza is rookie Tommy Meyer. The young defender from Indiana University and 19th overall pick in the 2012 MLS SuperDraft has started alongside DeLaGarza in four the Galaxy's five preseason matches. Well aware that Meyer is being groomed for the future, Gonzalez is doing his part to impart his wisdom on the youngster.
“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,” said Gonzalez. “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. [Wednesday] I took him to dinner, and we talked about a couple things. He's doing really well now, and he's loving it.”
While the Galaxy look to replace his dominant presence in the middle, Gonzalez is focused on his rehabilitation. Currently, the center back's schedule has him at the Home Depot Center only twice a week.
Not interested in rushing back from injury and potentially risking future complications, the upbeat Gonzalez is being patient with his recovery.
“I'm thinking more of a long-term career thing here, not just about this year,”said Gonzalez. “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.”
A future in Europe still remains a goal for Gonzalez–Nuremberg is reportedly still interested –, but for now the defender is focused on his health and returning to the Galaxy.
“[Playing in Europe] is something I want to happen,” said Gonzalez. “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.”