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Omar Gonzalez provides leadership in USMNT pre-Gold Cup camp

Omar Gonzalez, who signed with Toronto FC Monday, is one of the veteran leaders in the USMNT pre-Gold Cup camp

United States defender Omar Gonzalez speaks with reporters Tuesday, March 19, 2019, at U.S. soccer training camp in Davenport, Fla. Gonzalez is back with the U.S. national team for the first time since his own goal at Trinidad and Tobago in October 2017 helped cost the Americans a World Cup berth. (AP Photo/Ron Blum)

ANNAPOLIS, MD — United States men’s national team defender Omar Gonzalez directed young players during scrimmages Tuesday while taking his natural center back position. Periodically, he would check in for a quick piece of guidance from coach Gregg Berhalter.

“No coach and his staff are going to be the same,” Gonzalez said. “Gregg has different ideas and new visions, and he is on a mission; that is to change the way that the world views world soccer and how we play.”

Berhalter opened a hybrid training camp on May 27 at the U.S. Naval Academy that included members of both the U-23 men’s team and players available for selection from the 40-man provisional Concacaf Gold Cup roster.

Gonzalez was one of 11 capped players invited to the first portion of this camp. Excluding Fulham defender Tim Ream, Gonzalez tallied more caps than the other nine players combined. 

“We have a couple different objectives for this camp,” Berhalter told reporters on the first day of camp. “The first thing is to prepare some players to participate in the Gold Cup, and the second half is integrating some of the national teams and working with the younger players that are with the U-23 group and making sure we are on the same page.”

As the U-23 team departs, Berhalter released 29 names for the next phase in preparation for the Gold Cup. While veterans like Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley, as well as international and domestic talents Weston McKennie and Zack Steffen, arrive, two notable names were missing. Superstar Christian Pulisic and RB Leipzig midfielder Tyler Adams are delaying arrivals due to responsibilities and recovery processes in Europe. Pulisic is in the midst of moving from Bundesliga side Borussia Dortmund to Chelsea in the English Premier League.

The US is looking for a second consecutive Gold Cup title this year. Maybe more important than the trophy is the chance to redefine the program after a year of adversity. 

“[The Gold Cup] gives us a chance to compete,” Berhalter said. “When there is a trophy involved, it is a different sense of competition.”

Gonzalez, who signed with Toronto FC Monday, is one of the leaders on this young US team, one of the few who started two years ago in the Gold Cup final win over Jamaica and later experienced the heartbreaking failure to qualify for 2018 World Cup firsthand.

“Nothing has been said, but I think the assumed role, myself looking at it from afar before coming in, is just come in and be one of the veteran guys,” Gonzalez. “It is to just be a leader every step of the way; not necessarily vocally, but in the way I do things.”

Center back is a position especially key to Berhalter’s style of play. Berhalter likes to build possession starting from the back, typically the goalkeeper, and work the ball forward.

“Even if you are outside watching, it is very clear what he wants,” Gonzalez said. “If it is clear to you, that means it is clear to the players, as well. There may be a lot of information, but at the end of the day, it is pretty simplified.”

The USMNT kicks off its final preparations for the 2019 Gold Cup Wednesday against Jamaica at Audi Field. 

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