Gonzalez picks himself back up at Pachuca after crushing World Cup miss
GUADALAJARA, Mexico -- Omar Gonzalez will never forget that night in Couva, Trinidad, when the United States crashed out of World Cup qualifying. How could he? The 29-year-old described it as "the worst day" of his career and said the fluke own goal he scored to hand the Soca Warriors the lead in their 2-1 win would "haunt me forever."
But while the U.S. soccer community has been left to pick through the debris and begin the raging debate about the future of the U.S. national team at all levels, the players involved have had no option but to move on.
For Gonzalez, just four days after the defeat in Trinidad that meant a trip to Liga MX leader Monterrey, and it has been a tough transition back to club football.
"For me personally, being there and being absolutely devastated, it really hit me hard and to be honest I was stressed coming back [to Pachuca]," Gonzalez told ESPN FC after Pachuca's 1-1 draw on Friday against Atlas. "It took me a while to get into the groove of things and I'm finally playing well again."
Gonzalez had been an automatic starter ever since joining Pachuca from LA Galaxy in December 2015, but coach Diego Alonso didn't use him in three of the four Liga MX games following that 2-0 loss to Monterrey.
On Friday against Atlas, Gonzalez won the start back, went 90 minutes and provided a late assist for Pachuca's equalizer. He was also named in the team of the week in at least one publication and looked back on form.
Gonzalez is adamant that despite the bitter disappointment of World Cup qualifying, his career can't remain stagnant. He is almost turning the situation on its head and using it as fuel.
"After what happened, it lit a fire under me," he said. "You could either just shell up or do something about it. I decided to put everything into my work, and I'm doing a lot of extra work on the side and after practice to find a way to continue to improve.
"What happened isn't the end of me, it isn't the end of any player that was on that field. Our careers are going to go on, so for myself it's about finding ways to continue to improve and that's all you can really do."
As for how the United States move forward, Gonzalez simply hopes that the ideas swirling about the future of the game provide a positive conclusion.
"Obviously with us not qualifying it's going to have people talking and everyone is going to have an opinion," Gonzalez said. "My only hope is that we take the right step forward.
"There are going to be a lot of ideas coming from all directions and it's going to take a lot of people to right the ship. We have to do something to make sure this never happens again."
Gonzalez's Liga MX season may be over with Pachuca not making the playoffs, but the club has a busy period coming up to end 2017. Los Tuzos and Gonzalez face Atlante on Tuesday in the semifinal of the Copa MX and will open their Club World Cup campaign in Abu Dhabi on Dec. 9 against Moroccan side Wydad Casablanca.
"We want to go there and represent," Gonzalez said. "I hope we go to Abu Dhabi and show what we are capable of."
As Gonzalez readily admits, nothing can erase what happened in Trinidad, but that doesn't and shouldn't mean he can't end 2017 on a high with Pachuca.
Tom Marshall covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MexicoWorldCup.