Galaxy hurting for defensive options
CARSON, Calif. - As Steve Sampson rebuilt his squad over the offseason, one area that saw the greatest turnover was the group of defenders he inherited after taking over most of the way through the 2004 season.
Among the players who left were Danny Califf and Chris Aloisi, who were shipped off to San Jose. Ryan Suarez didn't change addresses to begin the season, just jerseys, joining Chivas USA. Sasha Victorine was traded on draft day to last year's Western Conference champs in Kansas City. Then, just about a week ago, Paul Broome was traded away from Los Angeles to Real Salt Lake.
Every one of the aforementioned players lined up somewhere on the back line at some point last season for the Green and Gold. Now, with the MetroStars on the horizon, this week's version of the Galaxy has just four listed defenders available on their roster, making Sampson probably wish he had any one of those players lost back with him for this week.
"We're thin at the back this week and a couple of guys are going to have to play some different roles for us," said Sampson.
Thin is putting it nicely. Sampson prefers to play four at the back, and, well, the math isn't very hard.
It's not really down to Sampson's and General Manager Doug Hamilton's winter manuevering. Injuries and national team call-ups have decimated the Galaxy roster recently. In order to make things work, Sampson will be forced to play two rookies, a seasoned international in his first MLS season, and a third-year player who now becomes the MLS vet on defense.
Of the two rookies, Ugo Ihemelu has played all but two games this year. He didn't play in the season opener, and then missed a game due to a red card suspension. The speedy rookie normally lines up in the middle, but ever since Chris Albright went down with injury, he's been forced to play on the right side of the back four.
While Ihemelu has played well on the defensive side of the ball, in Sampson's system, outside backs are expected to join the attack. In fact, Albright was injured as he was making a run in the opposition penalty area and taken out by the 'keeper. Ihemelu has all the speed needed to play up the right side with Cobi Jones, but is still learning the offensive side of the ball, which is just another kink in Sampson's master plan.
And what happens should someone else go down with injury on defense? It's a serious problem that Sampson has been forced to consider.
"We've been training for the past month or so with Josh Gardner as a left back," Sampson said. "We have to continue this week to look at a couple of additional options."
Unfortunately, the young professional hasn't seen a minute of action with the first team all season long. As the Galaxy's first defensive option off the bench it's probably safe to say that everyone in Los Angeles is looking forward to the end of the CONCACAF Gold Cup and the return of so many missing players.
Greg Daurio is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.