Gonzalez looks set to start at CB this summer.

Mistakes mean progress for emerging Omar Gonzalez


SEATTLE — A late save on a Luis Tejada chance, and Tim Howard had preserved another United States shutout, their third in five qualifiers. The goal would have been meaningless, the States already two up by the time Panama generated their best chance of the match, but it was another instance when defender Omar Gonzalez saw an error ruin what would have otherwise been a standout night.

“For most of the night, I thought that we did pretty well,” Gonzalez said after the U.S.’s victory. “There was that chance at the end, but that’s why you have Tim Howard – to make those saves in case they do get behind.”

While Howard did show his quality, defenders don’t get credit for needing their goalkeeper to bail them out. For Gonzalez, the moment fits a pattern that started with his first start in Honduras, his mistakes in the U.S.’s Hex opener contributing to a 2-1 loss. Slowly, those mistakes have become less meaningful, but for a player that regularly dominates long stretches of play, the errors stand in stark contrast to play that would otherwise place him among CONCACAF’s elite.

“Hopefully there comes a point soon where I put in a good, solid 90 minutes with no mistakes and help this team win,” Gonzalez said, still lamenting the Tejada chance while managing to stay positive about his overall performance.

And Gonzalez has plenty to be positive about. As the U.S.’s right center half, he had the responsibility of supporting right back Brad Evans, a man targeted by Panama from the match’s opening moments. Runs behind the natural midfielder by left wing Alberto Quintero and left back Carlos Rodriguez would have found early success, but to Gonzalez’s credit, Panama was never able to threaten Howard through Evans..

“They were going after Brad quite a bit,” Gonzalez conceded, asked to assess how he adjusted to the tactic. “I just wanted to make sure [Evans had] enough cover there. There were a couple of times that guy got around Brad, but I thought he and I both did well to get around the ball and make sure that [Panama] didn’t make the play.”

Run your mind over the rest of the U.S. player pool, and it’s difficult to come up with another player capable of providing that kind of protection. And in the 37th minute, as he reacted to a give-and-go at the top of the U.S. area, Gonzalez gave fans a perfect example of why, despite his momentary lapses, he remains the team’s top defender. Picking off Tejada’s pass and playing it into midfield, Gonzalez quickly defused what has been Panama’s most promising moment.

Not coincidentally, the fact Jurgen Klinsmann has been so forgiving of Gonzalez’s errors enables those kind of plays. Confident enough to force the pass while smart enough to read the ensuing play, Gonzalez eventually won the ball. Had be been more risk averse, he may have merely elected to keep the play in front of him and hope to block a shot.

“It just helps me personally to settle down a little bit and know that if I do make a mistake, it’s fine,” Gonzalez said of Klinsmann’s approach. “You learn from it, and you just try to forget about it as quick as possible.

“And (you) keep trying those things, because if you don’t try it, then you’re not going to get any better … [Klinsmann’s approach] gives every player that much more confidence to do something on the field.”

In aggregate, the results have been convincing. Gonzalez is the only defender to play every minute in qualifying’s final round, a stage that’s seen the U.S. give up only three goals in five games. If that’s with a Gonzalez that’s still coming into his own on the international stage, how good will the team be once the 24-year-old finishes his adjustment?

“There have been a lot of situations in a short period of time,” Gonzalez says, talking about being throw into the fire during the Hex. “I’ve been [putting] a lot of information in my head. Take the good stuff. And the bad stuff that happens, just forget about that.

“Like the Belgium game, things like that. I think all those are learning experiences. I’m feeling a little bit more comfortable with every game.”

It’s the kind of confession fans may not want to hear from their first choice defender, somebody who’d ideally be the unit’s most stalwart performer and leader. But while his ever-present role in final round qualifying hints at that stature, Gonzalez is not ready to call himself the group’s leading man.

“I don’t know if it [I am], but I’m happy to keep on playing,” was Gonzalez’s response when asked if he’s become the de facto leader in defense. “I’m happy to be stepping on the field and contributing to these performances.

“We’re one step closer to qualifying for the World Cup. I’m just really happy to be out there and a part of something that’s bigger than myself – just getting it done.”

MLS Snapshot: FC Dallas 4-1 Houston Dynamo

CHESTER, PA - MARCH 21: Tesho Akindele #13 of FC Dallas celebrates his second half goal with his teammates against the Philadelphia Union at PPL Park on March 21, 2015 in Chester, Pennsylvania. Dallas won 2-0. (Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images)
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The game in 100 words (or less): FC Dallas completed the season sweep over their in-state rivals, defeating the Houston Dynamo 3-1 tonight at Toyota Stadium. Dallas won all three meetings between the two clubs, outscoring Houston 10-2 in the process. David Texeira scored a brace for the home side today, who sit atop the Western Conference, tied with the Galaxy on points. Houston remains three points behind Portland and San Jose for the final playoff spot in the West. Raul Rodriguez picked up a late red card for the Dynamo, and will be suspended for the rest of the season.

[ RELATED: What we learned from Arsenal’s win over Manchester United ]

Three moments that mattered

25′ — Mauro Diaz penalty puts Dallas ahead — Rasheed Olabiyi took down the shifty Fabian Catillo in the box, giving FC Dallas a penalty kick. Mauro Diaz stepped up to the spot and slotted it home, giving the home side a lead.

51′ — Texeira scores on a long-range strike — Ricardo Clark had drawn Houston level in the first half, but David Texeira put Dallas back ahead right after the break. Texeira picked up the ball about 25 yards out and rifled a shot off the crossbar and in, a beautiful strike from Uruguayan.

53′ — Acosta wastes no time to make it 3-1 — Immediately after Texeira had given Dallas the lead, Kellyn Acosta scored to make it 3-1. Fabian Castillo rolled a pass into the box, where Acosta buried it into the top corner.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: David Texeira

Goalscorers: Diaz (PEN, 25′), Clark (36′). Texeira (51′, 90’+3′), Acosta (53′)

Red card: Rodriguez (89′)

La Liga & Serie A roundup: Villarreal suffers first loss

Michal Duris, Eric Bailly
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Catch up on all of this weekend’s action from Spain and Italy’s top flights.

Levante 1-0 Villarreal

Villarreal suffered its first loss of the La Liga season, falling 1-0 away to Levante. Levante entered the match without a win, but were able to take advantage of the league leaders, who were forced to play most of the match with ten men after Bojan Jokic was sent off in the first half. Despite playing a man down, Villarreal nearly held on for a draw, but Deyverson scored in the 83rd minute to give Levante the upset win.

Atletico Madrid 1-1 Real MadridMORE

Real failed to capitalize on Villarreal’s loss, as an early season Madrid derby ended in a 1-1 draw. Karim Benzema’s stellar form continued as the French striker put Real ahead early in the match, but Luciano Vietto equalized with less than ten minutes to play for Atleti. Real Madrid sits second in the league, one point behind Villarreal.

[ MORE: Saturday’s La Liga roundup ]

Athletic Bilbao 3-1 Valencia

After a big win over Lyon in the Champions League, Valencia fell 3-1 to Athletic Bilbao in La Liga play. Dani Parejo gave Valencia the lead 20 minutes in, but Athletic responded with three unanswered goals to earn a win for Ernesto Valverde’s men.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Rayo 0-2 Real Betis
Celta Vigo 0-0 Getafe
Sevilla 2-1 Barcelona
Espanyol 1-2 Sporting Gijon
Malaga 3-1 Real Sociedad
Granada 1-1 Deportivo
Las Palmas 0-2 Eibar

AC Milan 0-4 Napoli

Napoli traveled to the San Siro and got a massive win, thrashing AC Milan by four goals. Lorenzo Insigne continues to score for Napoli, as the striker bagged a brace for his side, who have now won three straight in Serie A. The loss was Milan’s first dropped points at home this season, as the Rossoneri have been shutout in consecutive matches.

[ RELATED: Zlatan becomes PSG’s all-time leading goalscorer ]

Juventus 3-1 Bologna

Juventus followed up a win in the Champions League over Sevilla with a win in Serie A over Bologna, who have lost six of seven matches to open the season. Alvaro Morata scored again for Juve, while Sami Khedira also got on the scoresheet, the German’s first goal for his new club. The result was just the second league win of the season for Juventus, who move up to 12th on the table.

Sampdoria 1-1 Inter Milan

After opening the season with five straight victories, Inter Milan is now winless in two after drawing away to Sampdoria. On the heels of a loss to Fiorentina, Inter fell behind to Sampdoria after Luis Muriel put the hosts ahead. However, Inter grabbed a point through Ivan Perisic, who scored his first goal for the club since joining from Wolfsburg this summer.

Elsewhere in Serie A

Carpi 2-1 Torino
Chievo 1-1 Verona
Empoli 1-0 Sassuolo
Palermo 2-4 Roma
Lazio 2-0 Frosinone
Fiorentina 3-0 Atalanta
Udinese 1-1 Genoa