CARSON, Calif. – Omar Gonzalez's imminent return from the World Cup – in time for next week's games but not Friday's StubHub Center clash with the Portland Timbers (11 pm ET, NBCSN/live stream at NBCSports.com) – will surely add stability to the LA Galaxy's backline.
Head coach Bruce Arena and his staff haven't determined who will be his partner in central defense, but they've been surveying all of the options while Gonzalez has been away, giving time to A.J. DeLaGarza, Leonardo, Tommy Meyer and Kofi Opare.
Meyer made a strong case in last weekend's 1-0 victory at San Jose, playing what Arena called the "best game of his career," and he's hoping to add to his credentials if he gets the call again against the Timbers.
"It's up for grabs," associate head coach Dave Sarachan said of the spot next to Gonzalez. "And I appreciate Tommy and what he's done over the last few games because he's not as young a player as he was, but he's still a guy that's relatively young. But I think he understands when the moment comes to grab a spot.
"I think now he's really dug in, and his level of concentration, his recognizing when there's danger, all of that has improved, and I think the physical part of his game has improved. Because I think that's some of the areas he didn't do so well at as a younger player. And I think now he's pushed himself into our conversation."
The third-year center back has seen spot duty with LA during his tenure – he was Gonzalez's partner down the stretch and through the playoffs en route to the MLS Cup title his rookie year in 2012 – but had fallen behind Leonardo and Opare on the depth chart. He helped himself with four good performances for LA Galaxy II, the club's USL PRO-based reserve team, and has started in six of the last eight competitive first-team games.
"He's at a point in his career where it should be coming together a little more for him," Arena said. "He's gotten an opportunity, and, hopefully, he can take advantage of it."
Meyer says increased playing time is spurring his confidence and thus his development.
"Defensively, I've gotten a lot better, especially one-v-one and just winning tackles," he said. "Bruce challenged me, said, 'You need to be winning all your tackles and everything in your area; you need to be making plays.' And I think maybe in the past I was kind of worried about [opposing attackers getting] in behind, and this year I've been able to step in and win tackles, especially with people next to you that back you up.
“It helps when you have someone behind you, you feel comfortable stepping into those spots knowing that people are going to have your back."
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Meyer wants the starting job but knows he's got tough competition.
"Everyone since [Gonzalez has] been gone has been great," he said. "Bruce has rotated a lot of guys in, and I think that's helped our team stay fresh. When he comes back, he's back in there, and then Bruce has a tough decision to see who plays next to him."