The finish line is so close defender Omar Gonzalez can see it.
Brazil. The World Cup. Something he's been pointing toward for as long as he can remember.
"It's a big deal because it's been my dream since I was young," he says.
Only now it looks like Gonzalez, the 25-year-old Galaxy star and former MLS defender of the year, could cross that finish line sitting down. After playing in 14 games for the U.S. national team last year — just one player appeared in more — Gonzalez may have lost his starting job less than three weeks before the U.S. team's World Cup opener.
U.S. Coach Juergen Klinsmann said the lineup he'll use against Ghana in the group-play opener next month will look a lot like the one he started in Tuesday's friendly with Azerbaijan. And Gonzalez started that game on the bench.
What's more Geoff Cameron, his replacement, was solid and confident in his place, especially when passing out of the back, something Gonzalez has struggled with. And that's no small matter because Klinsmann wants his defenders passing, rather than just booting the ball way downfield where it often winds up with the other team.
Against Azerbaijan, when Gonzalez did play in the second half, he looked hesitant at times.
"Naturally, it's open," Klinsmann said of the competition at center back. "How much, it's difficult to say."
But bad timing and Cameron's strong play aren't the only things working against Gonzalez. He has also been slowed by a knee injury that kept him out of his last game with the Galaxy before World Cup training camp, then limited his participation during the first week of that camp. Gonzalez insists his knee is 100% now, but his coach says he still has some catching up to do in the team's final two send-off games, Sunday against Turkey and June 7 against Nigeria.
"Cam's now a little bit ahead of him," Klinsmann said. "Both are working hard to make their point. And we keep using those send-off games to see more from them. Every training session we see more of them before we then decide who's going to be the starter going into Brazil."
It's a big shift in momentum for Gonzalez, who was the U.S.'s primary center back in the final round of World Cup qualifying last year. This year hasn't gone as well, though. In a friendly with Mexico last month, mistakes by Gonzalez contributed to both Mexico goals in a 2-2 tie.
But that won't keep Gonzalez from going to Brazil — and taking his family with him — which may be enough of a thank you for all his parents sacrificed to get him this far.
"In a way, it is me giving back to them," he said. "Obviously, they were always part of my backbone and keeping me going and keeping me strong. So it's for everyone, not just for myself.
"I'm going there representing the country. And then secondly, my family name on the back."
That family name is prominent in the Dallas neighborhood of Oak Cliff, where there was never any doubt Omar, the youngest of four children, would be a star athlete.
His sisters both attended college on athletic scholarships, Roxanna as a soccer player at Louisiana's Nicholls State University and Luisanna in volleyball at New Mexico. Brother Adrian was an offensive lineman at Louisiana Tech before being invited to camp with the Washington Redskins in 2005.
Even his parents, Adrian and Maria, were athletes, they met while playing volleyball in a Dallas park.
So at age 4 Gonzalez was playing T-ball. In junior high he played baseball and basketball and as a high school freshman he kicked a 45-yard field goal, drawing the attention of several Division I programs. But if he was good at all those other sports he was great at soccer.
"He was a natural," his father, a truck driver, said. "The first time we saw him touch a soccer ball, it was obvious that he was different from the other kids. I thought I was dreaming. I just said, 'Wow!' He has something'."
He wasn't the only one who had that feeling. The first time Amy Korenvaes saw Gonzalez she, too, knew he was special. Gonzalez had arrived late to a tryout for an elite travel team he was too young to play for. But it didn't take long for him to prove he belonged.