Galaxy defender Omar Gonzalez celebrates after scoring against Juventus… (Frederic J. Brown / AFP /…)
It wasn't a good sign for the Galaxy when Omar Gonzalez decided to take his off-season vacation in England last winter. With only 11 months left on his contract, the team's top defender had no shortage of deep-pocketed suitors in the English Premier League — not to mention the German Bundesliga and Mexico's Liga MX.
So when he tweeted that even the Corn Flakes tasted better in England it seemed as though the question was no longer would Gonzalez play overseas, but where.
The Galaxy never gave up though, and Thursday that persistence paid off when Gonzalez agreed to a designated-player contract that will keep him in Los Angeles. Terms of the multiyear deal were not disclosed, but a team official said Gonzalez, 24, received "a hefty raise" from his current contract, which guarantees him $282,000 this season.
"I want to make the trip to Europe. But it didn't have to be right now," said Gonzalez, a former MLS defender of the year and a starting centerback on the U.S. national team. "It was a no-brainer when the Galaxy offered me this deal. I'm extremely happy to be here."
As big as Gonzalez's deal is for the Galaxy, it may prove even more important for MLS. Two weeks ago, U.S. national team captain Clint Dempsey left Tottenham Hotspur of the EPL to sign a designated-player deal with the Seattle Sounders. And now with Gonzalez's decision to stay, MLS has suddenly begun winning back top American players who had previously felt more welcome in Europe.
"It's a great statement that both Clint and Omar have made that shows that Major League Soccer is becoming a real league of choice for players who have lots of international alternatives," MLS Commissioner Don Garber said.
Until Dempsey and Gonzalez agreed to their deals, the Galaxy's Landon Donovan and San Jose's Chris Wondolowski were the only Americans among the league's 31 designated players, a tag that allows teams to sign as many as three players to contracts that exceed the league's salary cap. The rule, sometimes called the Beckham Rule because it was adopted for the 2007 season to allow the Galaxy to lure David Beckham to MLS, had been used only three times on U.S.-born players before this season.
Galaxy Coach Bruce Arena hopes Garber is right and that the signings of Gonzalez and Dempsey are part of an MLS shift toward luring homegrown talent.
"This league's about American players and developing young players and rewarding young players that come through our system. And Omar has the resume we want in our players," Arena said.
"I'm a strong believer that the American player would be better if he was motivated better financially. And our league has not done that. It's important that we make a statement saying we appreciate our domestic players. And when they produce, we're going to reward them for that."
Next up for a reward is the 31-year-old Donovan, the U.S. national team's all-time leading scorer and the most decorated player in league history. His four-year Galaxy contract, worth nearly $10 million, expires this December, and he too is said to be looking toward playing in Europe.
How all this affects the players' standing with the U.S. national team remains to be seen. Coach Juergen Klinsmann has repeatedly said he wants his players competing in high-quality European leagues rather than in MLS, "where we still have to work on a lot of things."
But Gonzalez, who has been talking about a contract extension with the Galaxy for months, said he discussed the idea with Klinsmann during World Cup qualifying in June and the coach had no problem with it.
"He told me he felt totally comfortable with me staying here for another couple of years, but at some point I have to go to Europe," Gonzalez said. "And I understand that. Him giving me that talk really helped seal the deal for me."