Former Galaxy defender Omar Gonzalez was among 26 players called up to the U.S. national soccer team Sunday, ahead of two World Cup qualifiers with Guatemala.
The team, which will gather for training in Miami, plays Friday in Guatemala City (7 p.m. PT beINSport, NBC Universo) and March 29 in Columbus, Ohio (4 p.m. ESPN2, UniMas, Univision Deportes). Wins in both games would almost certainly be enough to send the U.S. on to the final round of CONCACAF qualifying, which begins in November.
“The goal is clear,” U.S. Coach Juergen Klinsmann said. “The goal is we would like to beat them in Guatemala City and then beat them as well in Columbus in front of our fans.”
The U.S. leads its four-team qualifying group after two games and need only finish in the top two to advance to the hexagonal round. It hasn’t lost to Guatemala in 28 years, although it has won just one of its last four games in Guatemala City, dating to 1989
Gonzalez, who left the Galaxy for Pachuca of Mexico’s Liga MX in December, was passed over in the last two national team call-ups. But in a recent interview posted on U.S. Soccer’s website, Klinsmann said the World Cup veteran rehabilitated himself after his move to Mexico.
“When he went down to Pachuca, everybody was a bit surprised about his decision,” Klinsmann said. “And from Day 1 on he was very determined and focused to make a statement.
“Not only did he become a starter right away [but] he made a big difference in most of the games. Defensively, obviously, with his very strong presence. And also his capabilities to play out of the back or here and there even go with the ball into midfield.”
Gonzalez will be reunited with former teammates Gyasi Zardes, who scored twice in the Galaxy’s 3-1 win over the San Jose Earthquakes on Saturday.
“I’m ready,” Zardes, whose goals Saturday were his first since November, said of the call-up. “I see it as an opportunity to keep working hard, keep learning. Because I feel like every time I go with the national team I learn so much from the coaching staff but also the players who play in different leagues.
“Just playing alongside those guys really helped me progress as a player. And as I keep going, I hope to get better.”
Other call-ups include goalkeeper Tim Howard, whose long-rumored move from England’s Everton FC to the Colorado Rapids of Major League Soccer was announced Sunday; Seattle Sounders forward Clint Dempsey, who has played for the U.S. since October; and Monterrey defender Edgar Castillo, who hasn’t played for the U.S. in more than two years.
Dempsey, the leading active scorer for the national team, has 13 goals in World Cup qualifying, matching the retired Landon Donovan for most all-time. Five of those scores have come against Guatemala.
Fifteen of the 26 players named to the roster were on the 2014 World Cup team and 18 have played in World Cup qualifying.
Toronto FC forward Jozy Altidore, who missed the first two games of the MLS season with a hamstring injury, and Fabian Johnson of Germany’s Borussia Monchengladbach, were both called in to be evaluated by the U.S. Soccer staff although neither may be healthy enough to play.
Goalkeepers: David Bingham (San Jose Earthquakes), Brad Guzan (Aston Villa), Tim Howard (Everton FC), William Yarbrough (Club Leon)
Defenders: Ventura Alvarado (Club America), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Steve Birnbaum (D.C. United), John Brooks (Hertha Berlin), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Edgar Castillo (Monterrey), Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca), Michael Orozco (Club Tijuana), DeAndre Yedlin (Sunderland)
Midfielders: Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Alejandro Bedoya (Nantes FC), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Mix Diskerud (New York City FC), Ethan Finlay (Columbus Crew SC), Fabian Johnson (Borussia Monchengladbach), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers FC), Lee Nguyen (New England Revolution)
Forwards: Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders FC), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes), Bobby Wood (Union Berlin), Gyasi Zardes (Galaxy)
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