The obvious talking points on Omar Gonzalez’s new Designated Player deal last week were, well, obvious.
It’s always right to stamp “Big News” on top of the print when a U.S. man is made a DP. There have been just three previously.
And it does my heart good to see MLS arrive at a place where defenders are valued thusly; it says good things about how long-term results are gaining ground on short-term marketing maneuvers when these important DP decisions are made.
But there are two elements that perhaps have not generated sufficient talk, both revolving around player choices and how staying in / returning to MLS could impact their ongoing development or performance.
Yes, Omar Gonzalez needs to be in Europe at some point to be the best possible Omar Gonzalez he can be. So there was some disappointment when the big center back signed on for another three-year Galaxy hitch. But before judging the U.S. center back too harshly, consider two things.
(Well, actually consider that we really need to stop pretending like these guys owe us something; they all have a right to play wherever they want … it’s not their problem if we are disappointed that they aren’t representing the Red, White and Blue of soccer in England or Italy or wherever. But that’s beside the point here …)
First, this does not necessarily mean Gonzalez (pictured, in the center of the bunch) is staying in Los Angeles for three years. What the Galaxy has done by offering a salary commensurate with the wages he would earn abroad is to secure his rights for three years. Los Angeles stood to forfeit somewhere north of $5 million by not signing Gonzalez, leaving him available on a free transfer at season’s end.
How silly would that have been? AEG brass may as well drive up and down the 405 flipping $100 bills out the window if they just want to throw money away.
Assuming good health, Gonzalez will surely fetch what Geoff Cameron did a year ago and then some; Cameron moved from Houston to Stoke 13 months ago for just under $3 million.
Second, nothing is more important to a soccer player than a World Cup. Right now, Gonzalez is well positioned for a spot on Jurgen Klinsmann’s roster next summer in Brazil. He may be slipping a wee bit in the order, as Matt Besler keeps up his good work and John Brooks crowds the field of central defensive competitors. Still, Gonzalez would be a roster lock if Klinsmann had to choose today.
The deal killers would be an injury, obviously, or if Gonzalez gets himself into a bad club situation. Say he went to Stoke City (a lot of that going around for Americans, you know) but could not break up the Ryan Shawcross / Robert Huth stranglehold on the two center back spots?
(MORE: Has Omar Gonzalez slipped a bit lately?)
If he sits on the bench all spring, the best possible likely outcome would be losing the U.S. starting spot while still making the roster. Again, that’s probably the best possible outcome.
If he stays in MLS he has a great chance of holding that starting spot. Then, if the man has a good World Cup, he’ll be 25 years old and in an outlandishly great position to make a move into Europe.
When you think about it that way, another go-round in MLS starts to look and feel like the right choice. Maybe not forever, but quite possibly for the time being.