Leading up to the 2011 season, A.J. DeLaGarza did not have a set role on the LA Galaxy. Adept in the center and out wide, DeLaGarza was always ready for duty in several positions.
This year, though, DeLaGarza enters the season with a much more secure and important duty. With Omar Gonzalez gone for most of 2012 thanks to an ACL tear, DeLaGarza will be the Galaxy’s most experienced center back from the get-go and will be looked on to provide leadership and stability in one of the most critical positions on the field.
How will he fare? Gonzalez, for one, is optimistic.
“I have no worries about A.J.,” Gonzalez said. “He's always done well in stepping into these roles. When I was at Maryland, he was a guy who was already leading the team. He's very experienced at that, and he's a guy you can always count on, so there's no worries there. I have confidence in him.”
There is no question that Gonzalez’s loss as a blow; after all, he has been superb since joining LA in 2009. Gonzalez walked away with Rookie of the Year honors that year, was a finalist for MLS Defender of the Year in 2010, and won the top defender award convincingly one year ago.
But in DeLaGarza, the Galaxy have a player who has already done some good things in MLS.
“He’s already had a breakout year – last year he did tremendous. The year before that he did great. Every time he steps on the field he does well,” Gonzalez said. “Right now, he needs to keep on doing what he’s doing and just keep on playing and having fun and things are going to turn out well for him.”
DeLaGarza, of course, is not nearly alone in the heart of the Galaxy defense. Leonardo joined the club for good on a free transfer from São Paulo but won’t be fully fit until the season starts. Andrew Boyens joined the club via the Re-Entry Draft and rookies Bryan Gaul and Tommy Meyer are also battling for playing time.
Meyer has been playing with DeLaGarza consistently and could be the Galaxy’s starter in the CONCACAF Champions League match in Toronto on March 7 and the MLS regular-season opener against Real Salt Lake three days later.
While the Galaxy have been giving up some goals in the preseason – New England beat LA 3-2 in the Desert Diamond Cup opener in Tucson, Ariz., on Wednesday – things will be fine over time, Gonzalez said.
“It's such a long season,” Gonzalez said. “Even if things might not go the right way in the beginning of the season, it's going to be fine. These guys are going to figure it out. All these players are really talented, and we brought these players in for a good reason, and that's because they're quality.”
Young players may or may not hit the ground running but DeLaGarza’s task will be to help everyone keep their wits about them.
“The young guys might have their lapses, but, hey, you know, who doesn't have their lapses?" said Gonzalez. "I've had them. A.J.'s had them. The best of the best have had them. It's up to us around them to make sure when things do go wrong, to be there for him and make sure to feel good about these things. I'm pretty sure everyone's going to do great.”
Luis Bueno covers the LA Galaxy for MLSsoccer.com and can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org