The 25-year-old Brazilian center back has suited up for just 22 first-team competitive matches since arriving in 2010 as part of the loan deal that first brought fellow Brazilian Juninho to the Galaxy, and he heads into this season coming off a knee injury that, after complications during rehab and reinjury in an MLS Reserve League game last June, has had him on the sidelines virtually all of the past two years.
“I think I am as healthy as I've been in years,” Leonardo told reporters through a translator. “Now it's important to use these preseason games as an opportunity to get to 100 percent by the time the season starts.”
He made 10 starts in 2010 but was out three months with a quad injury, then with Gregg Berhalter sidelined won a starting job opposite Gonzalez at the beginning of the 2011 season. Late in his seventh start, a 2-1 mid-April victory at Chicago, he shredded the anterior cruciate and lateral collateral ligaments in his right knee and needed a year to get back onto the field.
Leonardo made his official return in a Reserve League game last May, then played a full 90 – getting kudos from head coach Bruce Arena – in LA's US Open Cup loss weeks later to the NASL's Carolina RailHawks. Four days later, he collided with Portland's Sebastián Rincón eight minutes into a Reserve League match, reinjuring the knee and ending his season.
“The most frustrating thing is 2010 I was playing well, then I got injured,” said Leonardo, whom the Galaxy acquired on a free transfer a year ago after two loan deals with São Paulo. “By the time I was playing again, we were in the playoffs. 2011, again I start doing well, I get hurt, and I'm out the rest of the year. 2012, I'm still out for half of the year, I finally start playing, and I get injured again.
“All that's in the past right now. 2013, I feel, is different. I have to have faith this year will be different.”
He's played in three of four Galaxy preseason games – exiting one and missing another with a cramp; no problem with the knee – and wants to make Arena's decisions in the back difficult.
Arena has liked what he's seen.
“He's looked very good,” the Galaxy coach said. “Every time he plays, he plays well, and that's encouraging. ... I've been impressed with him. I'm real encouraged by his progress.”
Leonardo's goals this year are simple.
“First off is just playing and playing well,” he said. “I don't want to be watching the game, I want to be playing the game.”