AJ DeLaGarza heading spirited preseason battle for LA Galaxy's starting right back spot
CARSON, Calif. – If there's one gaping hole left on the LA Galaxy's roster, it's most likely at right back.
A.J. DeLaGarza is the only returner at that position with actual MLS experience after Sean Franklin's move to D.C. United in the Re-Entry Draft. That means LA need depth at the position, and 19-year-old Oscar Sorto, a Homegrown player who made only three first-team appearances, none in a league game, during his first season, and midfielder Rafael Garcia likely won’t be enough.
So head coach Bruce Arena has three right backs, including veterans Dan Gargan and James Riley, in camp fighting for a roster spot. The third is Matt Hall, a pacey outside back who impressed in the USL PRO the past two seasons with the LA Blues.
DeLaGarza is “penciled in right now” as the starter after transitioning last season from central defense, but he's been employed mostly in the middle so far during camp.
“We'll see what happens,” said DeLaGarza, who has made 131 league starts in five seasons for the Galaxy and started on the right in 16 first-team games last year. “Nothing's given yet, not a single position. Bruce reiterates that every single day. Everyone out here is fighting for a spot, and we have a lot of right backs out here. Five guys can play that position. I think between the five of us, someone's got to step up and win it.”
Gargan, 31, has played for Colorado, Toronto FC, Chicago and last year in San Jose. Riley, 31, has been with New England, San Jose, Seattle, Chivas USA and, last year, D.C. United.
Hall, 26, has seen time in both of LA's preseason matches, assisting on a goal in last weekend's closed-door victory over the Blues.
“Every day is a challenge because you have to come ready to play,” he said. “It's definitely a position that's open, it's something that everyone's hungry for, and you have to treat every practice like it's a game and be ready to perform out there at all times.”
Gargan tweaked his groin in the Blues game and sat out Wednesday's draw with Chivas USA. He hopes to see time when LA play Armenia's FC Shirak on Saturday evening at StubHub Center.
Riley arrived in camp Tuesday after training at home in Colorado during the offseason. He's expected to make his game debut against Shirak. He's impressed by the competition for the job.
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“[Dan and Matt] are great guys. I carpool with them into training,” he said. “The competition is great. You try to go out and do your bit, do what you can, do it simply, do it consistently – that's kind of been my motto – and let Bruce make the decision. Make it tough for him.”
Arena's impressions so far?
“Way too early,” he said, “to make any of those decisions.”