By Kevin Baxter
2:45 PM EDT, August 15, 2013
After months of negotiations, the Galaxy and defender Omar Gonzalez announced Thursday that they have agreed on a multiyear deal that will keep the U.S. national team standout with the two-time defending Major League Soccer champions.
Terms of the contract were not released, but a team official said Gonzalez, 24, received “a hefty raise” from his current contract, which guarantees him $282,000 this season.
“He could have gone to multiple places around the world. To Mexico, to Germany, to England. And for him to make a decision to stay here, it’s huge for our league. And it’s huge for us,” said Galaxy President Chris Klein. “I think it’s a statement also from our organization about what’s really important to us.”
Gonzalez, a former MLS defender of the year and the MVP in last season’s Cup final, said he entertained numerous offers from European clubs as well as teams in Mexico’s Liga MX before deciding to stay with the Galaxy.
“I want to make the trip to Europe. But it didn’t have to be right now,” said Gonzalez, 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.
“I’m playing good football, I’m happy here in L.A., I’m making good money, I’m with people who care about me, who believe in me.”
As big as Gonzalez’s deal is for the Galaxy, it may prove even more important for the league. Two weeks ago, U.S. national team captain Clint Dempsey left Tottenham Hotspur of the English Premier League to join 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.
Both signed as designated players, a tag that allows teams to negotiate contracts that exceed the league’s salary cap. But 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 just three times for U.S.-born players before this season.
Galaxy Coach Bruce Arena would like to see that change.
“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,” he 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 31-year-old Landon Donovan, the national team’s all-time leading scorer and the most decorated player in league history. His four-year contract, worth nearly $10 million, expires in December and he too is said to be looking toward 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 MLS “where we still have to work on a lot of things.” So by choosing to play in MLS, Dempsey and Gonzalez appear to be ignoring their coach’s advice.
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.
“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.”
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