Meyer the center of attention as LA begin Cup defense

CARSON, Calif. — The LA Galaxy seem to be getting healthy just in time for the Major League Soccer playoffs, with Landon Donovan, David Beckham and Todd Dunivant back from injury and Edson Buddle in the best shape he's enjoyed all season.

That’s not the case on the backline — three center backs remain out, including starter A.J. DeLaGarza — but Tommy Meyer's growing comfort and confidence in the middle is alleviating doubts about LA's defense, especially after a shutout victory Sunday over Seattle.

The Galaxy has been strong at the back since Omar Gonzalez returned in July from a knee injury, but ailing bodies around the field -- including Dunivant at left back -- contributed to a subpar spell that followed five straight shutouts, all competitions, from late August to mid-September.

LA had conceded seven goals in a four-game MLS spell before Sunday's clean sheet, winning just once in the span — over Toronto FC, who netted a pair — so the performance against Seattle bolstered confidence in advance of Thursday's Western Conference wild-card game against Vancouver (10:30 pm ET; NBCSN, TSN/RDS2 in Canada).

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“It was a huge point of emphasis for us to get that shutout, and we did it,” Dunivant said of the season finale. “It wasn't perfect. They had some opportunities, and we've already looked at video of that and [are trying] to correct that going forward. We know in the playoffs you need to win with shutouts. You can't rely on winning, 4-3 or 3-2. That's not the best recipe in the playoffs.”

Goalkeeper Josh Saunders came up huge on several occasions to keep Seattle out, but LA are buoyed by the partnership Gonzalez and Meyer are building in DeLaGarza's absence.

Meyer, a rookie out of Indiana, had made just four league appearances before he was thrust into the middle when DeLaGarza sustained a sprained MCL in a Sept. 30 game at Colorado. He's grown with each appearance since.

“He's doing very well,” Galaxy coach Bruce Arena said during Tuesday's media conference call previewing the Vancouver game. “He started the year where it was a little difficult for him being a young player coming into the league, and he more than any player we've seen over the year has improved a lot. He's absorbed a lot of information and done a great job over the last couple of months.

“We saw Tommy's improvement and knew that if he were to get on the field for us we'll be fine,” Arena added. “For the last month or so he's moving along well, and he's a good center back.”

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Dunivant says Meyer is “a completely different player now than he was five months ago. He's grown by leaps and bounds ... started to feel comfortable in his own skin, and that makes a big difference on the field.”

DeLaGarza said Tuesday there was no timetable for his return and that “maybe” he'd be back in time if the Galaxy reached MLS Cup on Dec. 1. So Meyer will be critical for LA through the playoffs, however long they survive.

He says he's ready.

“I'm a lot more aware in the games and realize I have to make plays and not just play it safe,” Meyer said. “The first couple of games I played, I was definitely trying to not make mistakes, trying to play it safe, and as a center back you have to make plays, you have to step in and win tackles. Those are the little things I think I learned defensively that really help me now.”