CARSON, Calif. -- A.J. DeLaGarza has plenty to think about this offseason following his most difficult MLS campaign, 1518411414" tabindex="0">and most pressing is what to do about Guam's critical upcoming World Cup qualifiers.
The LA Galaxy defender has been dealing with a groin issue for much of the season, and it's going to require surgery. He'd prefer to push the procedure until after Guam's clashes on Nov. 12 in India and Nov. 17 against Iran on their home field in Dededo, all things being equal.
But all things aren't equal, and DeLaGarza's priority is the Galaxy's CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal series with Mexico's Santos Laguna in late winter.
“It's my groin, has been bothering me for about five months, probably,” DeLaGarza said after LA's end-of-season meeting last week. “I don't know yet [when surgery will take place]. I've g1518411415" tabindex="0">ot international duty coming up, and I'm trying to see if I'll be ready next year by the time we come back for preseason.
“If there's any jeopardizing playing in Champions League, then maybe I don't go to international duty and get whatever needs to be done tomorrow or the next day. We've got to figure that out. It's not easy.”
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DeLaGarza missed much of preseason with a foot injury, then suffered the groin ailment in May. It forced him to the sidelines for three games, returning when it was good enough to play on. It flared up again in October, and the seven-year veteran skipped Guam's 1-0 World Cup qualifying loss at Turkmenistan and sat on the bench for LA's 5-2 loss against the Portland Timbers.
Guam (2-2-1) are fourth among five teams in Group D of the second round of Asian qualifying for the 2018 World Cup, even on points with third-place Turkmenistan (2-2-1) and one point behind Iran (2-0-2), who have a game in hand. Oman (3-0-2) lead the group, and two teams will advance to the third round.
Guam beat India (0-5-0) at home in June and must win in Bangalore -- and then upset Iran -- to keep their slim hopes alive. DeLaGarza played 90 minutes in the Matao's first four qualifiers.
DeLaGarza heads into the offseason haunted by a poor clearance -- a header that went straight up, was nodded forward by Leonardo and volleyed off the bounce by Erik Friberg -- that led to the Sounders' 3-2 win in last week's Knockout Round showdown in Seattle that eliminated LA from the Audi 2015 MLS Cup Playoffs.
“That's the only thing I remember [from that game],” he said. “Up to that point, I thought I had probably my best game of the entire year, and then on a header you make nine times out of 10, you don't connect with it like you wanted to and thought you would. And it, obviously, hurt the team. So that's the only thing I'll probably remember from that game.”
DeLaGarza's transition from center back to right back, an on-and-off project since Sean Franklin departed for D.C. United after the 2013 season, was one of LA's major initiatives this year. He made 16 of 22 league starts on the right, including 11 of the Galaxy's final dozen games. It hasn't been easy.
“I grew up playing center back since I was 14 years old,” DeLaGarza said in late September. “Obviously, I've played right back quite a bit, but I think you can see [attacking the flank is] just not my best quality. My best quality is defending, and I know my role. I know why I'm put on the outside right: It's to be a defensive player first and support the attack second, not to be a playmaker in the attack, so I have to be aware of that.
“If I can get time consistently [at right back] and my mindset is, 'I know I'm going to be out there,' I think I'll definitely be better [in 2016]. And I can work at it every single day, but this year [I played the] majority outside, but I get flip-flopped [to play in the middle] every so often, and they're just totally different positions and mindsets. It's not an overnight success. It takes practice.”