CARSON, Calif. – The biggest quandary facing Bruce Arena ahead of the LA Galaxy's season opener concerns the right side of midfield and the middle of the backline, and his best option might be to shake things up.
Arena has looked extensively during preseason at pairing Leonardo with Omar Gonzalez in central defense, moving A.J. DeLaGarza to right back and pushing Sean Franklin into midfield, and it would be no surprise if that's the way things look Sunday afternoon against Chicago at the Home Depot Center (5 pm ET, UniMas).
Leonardo, who missed nearly all of the past two season with knee injuries, started the last two preseason matches – the two in-stadium games before paying audiences – and has looked fit, healthy and capable throughout preparations. DeLaGarza, Gonzalez's usual partner, is a natural right back, and with Mike Magee up front in Landon Donovan's absence, Arena must decide if Franklin is a better fit on the right flank than Michael Stephens or Hector Jimenez.
Arena isn't tipping his hand. When asked following Friday's training session about Leonardo stepping in next to Gonzalez, he quickly responded: “Or A.J. – Omar and A.J. typically play together in the center, and they're very experienced players, probably been together the last seven, eight years [including at the University of Maryland]. I think Leo, whenever he's come in and played with Omar or A.J., has done quite well.”
Leonardo and Gonzalez were together for two halves during preseason, with LA conceding nothing: the second half Feb. 16 against South Korean club Gangwon FC and the first 45 in the victory three days later over a mostly reserve side from Club Tijuana. They also teamed up eight times in 2010 and four times in 2011, before Leonardo suffered an ACL tear. The Galaxy's record in those games: 6-2-4.
“Leonardo – man, that's another story similar to mine, maybe a little worse than mine,” said Gonzalez, who missed the first half of last season with an ACL tear. “Two years to come back, and what a story that is. He's just been playing really well lately, he's been showing that he's fit, he's ready to step on the field, and everyone's more than happy to have him out there.
“I've only been paired up with him [during preseason] a couple of games here and there, but it was just the way it was before he got hurt. ... [Leonardo's return] adds a lot more depth, it gives you the opportunity to maybe rotate more guys, because everybody's a solid defender, everybody has quality. You can move A.J. to right back or keep him as center back. You just have a lot more options.”
Leonardo says he's ready if he's the option Arena chooses.
“I think that formation, that's a strong defensive formation,” he said. “A.J.'s really good over there [on the right] – that used to be his old position, so he's really comfortable there. Sean is dynamic and he's more than comfortable where he is right now [in midfield]. ... I consider myself to be ready if that opportunity is given to me.”