LOS ANGELES -- Omar Gonzalez admits he was impressed by the spread in Galaxy's corporate suite during last week's CONCACAF Champions League game at the Home Depot Center.
"They had some good food," he says. "They had some, like, meatball things. And they had some other stuff, some chicken fingers. It was all good."
Good would not be the adjective of choice to describe the Galaxy defense so far this season. With Gonzalez, a two-time All-Star, out until midsummer following surgery for a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, the winless Galaxy has given up seven goals in three games. It gave up as many as seven goals in a three-game stretch only once last season -- and four of those were scored by Real Madrid in a midseason friendly.
Yet all Gonzalez, Major League Soccer's defender of the year in 2011, can do is watch. And wince.
"The only frustrating part is the fact that I'm hurt. And the fact that I want to be out there," Gonzalez says. "There's going to be some difficult times maybe, but I think that the coaching staff and the veteran players aren't going to let it get too far. It is only the third game of the season so there's no need to panic. There's a lot of season left."
Maybe. But it's probably not a good sign when the play that has defined the Galaxy season so far took place in January, on Gonzalez's first day of training with FC Nuremberg, when he collided with fellow American Timmy Chandler.
"It was just a really freak play," remembers Gonzalez, who was on loan to the German club. "The coach was yelling at someone and the ball came back into play. They passed me the ball and on my second touch, I twisted away from the defender and I just got bumped into the back so slightly. My quad just twisted."
Gonzalez hoped it was just a strain but when doctors discovered the ligament was completely torn, they put him on a plane home. And that, Gonzalez said, may have been the most painful part of the whole ordeal because to prevent a clot on the transatlantic flight, he had to inject himself with a blood thinner. In the stomach.
"It was definitely scary," he remembers.
The subsequent operation went well, though, and the 23-year-old Gonzalez, who is rehabbing five times a week, expects to be back by August -- if not sooner. In fact his biggest challenge now appears to be holding back.
"When I'm walking the dogs or something, I feel like maybe I'll try to jog a little bit," says Gonzalez. "I feel so good that I want to do these things. But there could be serious repercussions because it's still not all the way healed yet."
Nor is the Galaxy defense. Toronto FC Coach Aron Winter admitted he targeted Gonzalez's replacement, rookie Tommy Meyer, in Wednesday's CONCACAF Champions League game and that paid off with Meyer getting beat for both goals in the Galaxy's 2-1 loss.
Meyer isn't solely to blame for the team's woes, however. Fellow defender Sean Franklin knocked in a critical own goal -- the first of three scores the Galaxy conceded in a 12-minute span of its MLS opener with Real Salt Lake -- while central defender A.J. DeLaGarza is playing without Gonzalez at his side for the first time since his sophomore season at Maryland.
And Galaxy goalkeeper Josh Saunders, who had started only eight MLS games in three seasons before last year, has stopped only four of 10 shots on goal this spring.
But while Galaxy Coach Bruce Arena acknowledges he has been frustrated by the team's play this month. he's even more frustrated with repeated questions about how Gonzalez's absence has affected the players.
"I don't think it's in their mind that Omar's not there. They're not that stupid," he protested. "(Omar) is not going to be here for a while."
As Arena likes to point out, Gonzalez also missed the first three games last season. What he doesn't mention, though, is the Galaxy gave up five scores in those games, winning just once.
In fact, in the last 13 months the Galaxy yielded only 26 goals in the 39 MLS and Champions League games Gonzalez started -- a goals-against average of 0.67. Opponents have scored 15 times in the eight games he has missed.
With Gonzalez, the team is 25-5-9 with 20 shutouts. Without him, the Galaxy is 2-4-2 with one shutout. No other player -- not Landon Donovan, nor David Beckham nor the suddenly tentative Robbie Keane -- has had that kind of impact.
Coincidence, Gonzalez insists.
"You never know," he says. "Maybe I would have made the same mistake(s)."
What's more likely is that Gonzalez will be back in the Galaxy's suite Sunday afternoon, choosing between the meatball things and the chicken tenders, while his teammates try to figure out how to get along without him against D.C. United.
"Guys are going to have to step up," defender Todd Dunivant says. "We don't have Omar. So there's no excuses there."