CARSON, Calif. – Omar Gonzalez wouldn't have come near winning the MLS Cup final MVP award at halftime. The 6-foot-5 defender had kept Calen Carr onside on the play that put the Houston Dynamo a goal ahead a minute before the break.
But, by the end of the match, when the LA Galaxy rattled off a 3-1 win and lifted a second consecutive cup, there were few other legitimate candidates for the award.
“I'll give Gonzalez credit, his timing today was excellent defensively, and attacking-wise he was very good in the air,” Houston head coach Dominic Kinnear said. “Everything was working for him tonight.”
On the hour mark, Gonzalez looped a header over Tally Hall and into the swishing net for the equalizer. Minutes later he knocked the ball down for Robbie Keane to score, but the goal was disallowed.
For a 10 minute spell in the second half, Gonzalez won a string of headers from free kicks and crosses, as the reigning champions piled the pressure insurmountably on Houston.
“That's just what I've got to do,” Gonzalez said. “Game in, game out, I've just got to be dominant in the air.”
Even the Dynamo, set-piece specialists themselves, had no answer.
“Omar's a good player. He's a big defensive body, great in the air,” Dynamo midfielder Brad Davis said. “When a player like that is on top of his game, he's tough to beat.”
The Dynamo couldn't beat him on the ground either. The 24-year-old made 11 interceptions and 15 clearances. Now the 2009 Rookie of the Year and 2011 Defender of the Year can add the 2012 MLS Cup MVP award to his long list of personal accolades.
“I'd never thought I'd be winning it,” Gonzalez said. “It was pretty emotional for me after the game because at the beginning of the year I didn't see myself getting back to this level. I had some days when I was just thinking if I was ever going to come back the same way.”
During a preseason trial with Nurnberg in January, Gonzalez tore his ACL. He sat out until July 4, and even then only slowly made his way back to full fitness.
The Galaxy, in a lull to start the season, posted 11 points in the first 13 games of 2012. In June, the team started to turn it around, but didn't reach full flight until Gonzalez was restored to the backline in the second half of the season.
“Probably the turning point in their season was when he got healthy,” Kinnear said.
The MVP award is a physical manifestation of the Texas native's long toil back to fitness and form.
“Today was really special for me because I know that I'm able to go even further now,” Gonzalez said.
Just how far? Well, David Beckham thinks he should be on the U.S. national team. Jurgen Klinsmann admitted that had the Galaxy crashed out of the playoffs in time, Gonzalez would have joined the squad in Russia in November.
“Omar, he's not just a special player but he's a special person as well,” Beckham said. “He works hard. He listens. He's a young player with a lot of talent that I hope at some point is going to play for the U.S. national team more regularly, because he deserves it.”
Bruce Arena agreed. Arena coached the United States for eight years, making it to the quarterfinals of the 2002 World Cup.
“Omar belongs in the national team pool,” Arena said. “I'm confident that Omar's a player who can play internationally for the United States.”
Any sort of consistent international career is in the future. For now, a second consecutive title and the MVP award were enough for Gonzalez to strip naked and dance in the Galaxy locker room. That outcome seemed unlikely at half.
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