CARSON, Calif. – The LA Galaxy's end-of-game defensive troubles went away Saturday night, when they dominated Sporting Kansas City, 2-0, at the Home Depot Center. No coincidence the tried and true back four was together again, right?
The Galaxy (3-1-2) conceded little to one of Major League Soccer's most dynamic attacks, shutting off Sporting in the midfield and on the flanks, quickly defusing attacks that reached their box and fueling a counterattack that netted two goals and might have produced another three or four.
It was LA's first shutout since March 23, their first victory since then, too, and the most prominent reason was the performance of the backline. With Leonardo suspended after a red card in Dallas, head coach Bruce Arena opted for the classic four – Omar Gonzalez and A.J. DeLaGarza in the middle, Sean Franklin on the right and Todd Dunivant on the left – that provided a foundation for the Galaxy's championship runs the past two seasons.
“The backline that we sort of started with, with A.J., me, Todd and Sean, it's something that's always worked,” Gonzalez said after LA's fourth shutout in 10 games this year, all competitions. “We've kind of gotten away from that, with Leo and bringing Tommy [Meyer] in, but I feel like every time we go back to it, it's something that always really works.”
Gonzalez doesn't yet have the kind of chemistry with Leonardo he has with DeLaGarza, whom he's partnered since their University of Maryland days. Regardless, LA's depth is greatest along the backline, and Franklin's value on the right side of midfield – especially when Landon Donovan was missing – made it sensible to shift DeLaGarza to the right side and slot Leonardo in next to Gonzalez.
It's not the only for the Galaxy's penchant for surrendering late goals in recent weeks, but mistakes along the backline have certainly been costly.
“We know each other well,” Dunivant said. “We've always played together, and it's kind of gotten stronger over time. It was nice to have the group back, and we have a lot of good players on this team, though, so it's not like we can't have other guys in there. Obviously, this four has done very well, and [this game] was another example.”
Leonardo had started seven of the previous nine games, partnering Gonzalez a half-dozen times (plus twice off the bench) along with DeLaGarza when Gonzalez was away with the national team. Meyer, who stepped in admirably when DeLaGarza was hurt for LA's playoff run last year, has made just one first-team appearance, off the bench after Leonardo's expulsion. The Galaxy had gone with the Franklin-Gonzalez-DeLaGarza-Dunivant quartet just once this season, for the first hour of the 0-0 CONCACAF Champions League draw May 7 at Herediano.
Sporting managed just two shots on goal, none after halftime. LA has surrendered just 13 shots on frame in six league games. But truly, it was a full-team effort.
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“[We were] just solid all the way around,” DeLaGarza said. “Everyone was working, shutting down crosses. Obviously, Graham [Zusi] can put in a good ball, and Todd really limited that. Everyone in front of us did their job and made it easy for Omar and I.”
But should LA stick with this group?
“Should we?” DeLaGarza responded when asked. “It's the coach's decision. I don't know. He knows what we can do as a unit, but no matter who's in there, we've just got to play the full 90.”