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USMNT’s Gonzalez: “I think that we’re in good hands”

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Omar Gonzalez might’ve planned to be doing promotional duty ahead of this summer’s World Cup, but not solely as an observer of the biggest tournament in the world.

But Gonzalez, 29, and his United States men’s national teammates fell short in their World Cup qualifying bid, losing in Trinidad and Tobago when a draw would’ve done the trick.

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Despite his own goal and a still bewildered disappointment in his voice, the Liga MX center back says he’ll be watching and cheering for fellow CONCACAF nations when the tournament starts next week in Russia.

“I am Mexican, I’ve lived there now for three years and I have friends on the team, some of my teammates are on the team,” said Gonzalez, who was born in Texas to Mexican parents.

“I have a friend who plays for Costa Rica, so I’m definitely not bitter. I’ll be cheering them on and I hope they represent CONCACAF well. I’m looking forward to seeing Mexico hopefully get past the group stage and see how far they can go. My teammate Erick Gutierrez and my former teammate Chucky Lozano, I’m really pulling for them and I hope they have a good tournament.”

Gonzalez was speaking to ProSoccerTalk on behalf of Clamato and their promotion of a michelada, a drink made when the tomato and clam juice drink is mixed with beer and spices (Gonzalez suggests hot sauce).

Like many of his veteran USMNT teammates, Gonzalez has not been called into national team camp since that fateful night at Ato Boldon Stadium. That evening saw him produce an own goal and the United States end a seven tournament run as World Cup participants.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

That also loss cued up a number of big changes for U.S. Soccer. Bruce Arena resigned his post, and president Sunil Gulati did not run for another term. Carlos Cordeiro is now in charge of the federation, and the USSF has hired team centurion Earnie Stewart to help find its new manager.

Gonzalez is hoping things calm down a bit around the team.

“I think that we’re in good hands,” he said of the Stewart hire. “Everyone knows that change was needed. Change has happened, and now it’s about moving forward.”

As for his hopes of returning to the team — 29 is not old for a center back — Gonzalez looks forward to a chance for redemption, but is not expecting anything. What he would like to see is a little more organization, hunger, and commitment from the men who are called into the team.

“I just like for things to be running smoothly and when guys go into camps, they are there for the team, to wear their jersey with pride and get along with everyone. It doesn’t happen all the time, but knowing what’s happened with not qualifying and all the things that went wrong, it’s in everyone’s best interest to put everything behind themselves. When they do get together, it has to be all about the team and how they can come together to get the results they need to get.

“I’m liking the changes that are happening with the GM, and looking forward to a new coach, and seeing the direction they takes. I’m happy they are giving these young guys opportunity. I’m think they are moving in the right direction and I’m interested in seeing how it all comes to fruition, and I hope to still be a part of the group and do what I can to help the program and help the young guys if that’s what I have to do, just whatever it takes.”

Is he hopeful of a return to national team duty? Yes, but he’s not necessarily expecting it.

“I’m at the point where I’m just hoping it does come at some point, but if it doesn’t, I’m totally fine with that. I have to focus on my club play and get better every day. If I do happen to get a call-up, I’ll be super excited and ready to go in and join the team. Until it happens, it’s not going through my mind.”

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It so happened that our conversation took place hours after a reported agreement to send Gonzalez from Pachuca to Atlas. Gonzalez says “nothing’s done yet” regarding the proposed transfer.

“It’s been all over the Internet, but either I’m going or I’m staying at Pachuca. Nothing is official.”

(Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images)

A product of Maryland, Gonzalez was the third overall pick of the LA Galaxy in the 2009 MLS SuperDraft. He was Rookie of the Year, won three MLS Cups and two Supporters Shields, and was in the league’s Best XI in 2010, 2011, 2013, and 2014.

He transferred to Pachuca in 2016, winning the Clausura in his first season and then the CONCACAF Champions League in 2017.

The split season is the biggest difference between MLS and Liga MX, Gonzalez says, adding that the desperation is consistent.

“Both leagues are very competitive but the biggest difference for me is that every game is really tough,” Gonzalez said. “Sometimes in MLS, the season is long and there are some games, you hate to say, but that don’t really matter. You hit that period in May and April and the games just aren’t that interesting. For Liga MX, there are two short seasons, two playoffs, you only have 17 games, and there’s that stress that goes along with losing a couple of games and feeling the pressure from everywhere. Every game matters, and every game is a big game.”

Would he like to see that in MLS?

“It could be fun to have that implemented but it’s difficult because how big the U.S. is and the differences in how cold it can get and how hot it can get.”

As for the World Cup, Gonzalez thinks the winner won’t be coming from UEFA for the first time in more than a decade.

“I’ve been saying I want Brazil to win it. I feel really bad the way it ended in Brazil in 2014. They have a great team, and I think they can make a final and maybe finish this one off.”

Liga MX wrap: Pachuca earns first win, Leon stays unbeaten

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All of Saturday’s action from around Mexico’s top flight…

Pachuca 3-1 Lobos BUAP

A strong first-half push from the hosts was all Pachuca needed on Saturday night to earn their first victory of the 2018 Clausura season. Angel Sagal brought the home side in front after just 10 minutes off of a near-post header, before Pachuca’s lead soon doubled 14 minutes later from the penalty spot when strike Franco Jara converted on the dead-ball attempt.

Just prior to halftime, Pachuca was out to a 3-0 advantage when 20-year-old outside back Erick Aguirre tallied his first goal for the club.

Last-place side Lobos got on the board three minutes into the second stanza via a finish from Heriberto Olvera, however, it wasn’t enough to provide anything more than a consolation for the visiting side.

Necaxa 1-3 Chivas Guadalajara

Mexican international Alan Pulido made it a dream start for the visitors from Guadalajara at the Estadio Victoria, however, that lead was cancelled out in first-half stoppage time after Carlos Gonzalez leveled the match up at 1-1.

The difference proved to be with 25 minutes left to play, when a goalkeeping error by Marcelo Barovero allowed Chivas to regain possession inside the Necaxa penalty area, before Ronaldo Cisneros tapped home the winner.

Then, a third goal came just prior to the end of regulation when Edwin Hernandez killed the game off for Matias Almeyda’s men, who also earned their first victory of the Clausura season.

Rest of Saturday’s Liga MX action

Cruz Azul 0-0 Club Leon
Queretaro 0-0 Tigres UANL
Monterrey 0-0 Club Tijuana

Sunday’s matches

UNAM vs. Club America — 1 p.m. ET
Santos Laguna vs. Morelia — 7 p.m. ET

Manneh done in Columbus, MLS; signs for Mexico’s Pachuca

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One of the most electrifying (if not frustrating and short-on-end-product) players to ever come through MLS has spurned a future MLS, in favor of a move south of the United States-Mexico border.

[ MORE: Gulati discusses 2026 WC bid, next USMNT coach ]

22-year-old Kekuta Manneh, who was drafted by the Vancouver Whitecaps in 2013 at the age of 18 before being traded to Columbus Crew SC in March of this year, has signed with Liga MX side Pachuca on a free transfer, the club announced on Tuesday.

Born in The Gambia and moved to Texas at the age of 15, Manneh became an American citizen during his time in Vancouver (he maintained residency this side of the U.S.-Canada border his entire time with the team in order to do so), and was subsequently called in this year’s January camp without appearing in the post-camp friendlies.

Crew SC’s move to acquire Manneh, which cost them midfielder Tony Tchani and $300,000 in combined allocation money, netter the (perhaps) Austin, Tex.,-bound team four goals and three assists before losing the player without receiving a single dollar in transfer fees. Columbus will, however, retain Manneh’s MLS rights.

It’s been a solid 24 months since we’ve seen anything resembling Manneh’s best, let alone the potential pinned on him early in his career. The blazing speed he possesses in the open field has rarely been harnessed and used to produce the kind of end product that many thought could eventually make him an elite attacker in MLS and set him on his way for a move to Europe.

Honda takes road less traveled, signs with Pachuca in Liga MX

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Keisuke Honda paved new roads earlier in his career, first starring for CSKA Moscow in the UEFA Champions League before making a big move to AC Milan.

But now he’s heading in a direction many from Europe travel to, though his destination was a surprise.

Honda announced early Friday morning that he had signed with reigning Liga MX champions Pachuca, becoming the latest high-profile European player to join Liga MX after Frenchman Andre-Pierre Gignac joined Tigres UANL.

[ MORE: Kyle Walker completes record transfer to Man City ]

The 31-year-old midfielder comes in as a replacement for budding Mexico National Team star Hirving Lozano, who signed with PSV Eindhoven earlier this summer, though the pair play different roles in midfield.

Honda only played in eight games in Serie A last season and will have his hands full with adjusting to the language and culture of Mexico along with the Liga MX style of play. However, if Gignac’s example is anything to follow, after some time to bed in, Honda can have a big impact in Mexico and could encourage others to join.

Pachuca is coming off defeating Mexican giants Club America in the Clausura Liguilla final and as winners of the CONCACAF Champions League, they’ll be playing this winter in the 2017 Club World Cup.

Honda will also be teammates with U.S. Men’s National Team centerback Omar Gonzalez.

Jara’s goal lifts Pachuca to CONCACAF Champions League crown

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Hirving Lozano’s dipping shot rebounded into the path of Franco Jara, who scored the goal that won Pachuca its fifth CONCACAF Championship early Thursday morning.

The Argentine’s goal was the only one of the win over UANL Tigres, and gave Pachuca its first continental title since 2009-10. USMNT veteran Omar Gonzalez played for the winners, while Jose Torres started for Tigres.

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Major League Soccer teams were eliminated in the semifinals, with FC Dallas falling to Pachuca and Vancouver Whitecaps losing to Tigres.

Beginning with the 2017-18 tournament, qualified MLS and Liga MX teams will not enter the tournament until the Round of 16. The entire tournament will be held in the same calendar year.