Gregg Berhalter (far right) has helped mentor Omar Gonzalez (far left) and Sean Franklin (center).
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Berhalter: LA teammates show US potential

A year ago, the Los Angeles Galaxy had one of the best defenses in MLS. Though statistics show one side of the Galaxy’s stifling defense, the individual pieces also reveal how strong the back line was a year ago and gives promise of what’s to come in 2011.

Three pieces of the Galaxy’s defense were part of the United States national team’s camp Tuesday when it opened for its annual January session at The Home Depot Center. Omar Gonzalez, Sean Franklin and A.J. DeLaGarza are all in camp, and teammate Gregg Berhalter said it’s a deserving nod.

“It's a great honor first of all for the Galaxy, to have three defenders named to the national team camp,” Berhalter said. “They've all proven [themselves] throughout the season.”

Berhalter, himself an accomplished national team defender, said the three players each had high hopes of accomplishing something significant with the national team.

[inline_node:323419]“Omar is probably the more established one of the group in terms of the national team,” Berhalter said. “He needs to continue to assert himself on that level.”

Gonzalez was named 2009 Rookie of the Year and was a finalist for the 2010 MLS Defender of the Year award. Unlike his Galaxy teammates, Gonzalez already has a cap and earned praise for his effort against Brazil in August.

“He definitely has the potential and it's just the consistency he needs to work on, but I count on him to be a huge part of the US program as it moves forward,” Berhalter said.

Franklin, Gonzalez’s predecessor in rookie honors, also has parlayed individual success into a national team call. He enjoyed another fine season in 2010 despite early injury concerns, and Berhalter said Franklin's talent could help him stand out.

“With Sean, I think Sean has definite ability," Berhalter said. "I think that he has tremendous fitness, tremendous speed, is a good one-on-one defender and he's very good going forward. He has the potential to make it [in the USMNT] and I think it's up to him now to show that at that level he can make decisions quick enough to be effective.”

[inline_node:121482]Perhaps the unlikeliest player of the trio to be at camp is DeLaGarza. Not a regular starter during the season, DeLaGarza spent time at center back and on the right side of the defense until he gravitated toward the back in a more permanent role.

With Berhalter injured and slowly regaining fitness, DeLaGarza eventually was the first-choice center back to pair with Gonzalez, and it’s his versatility that is most impressive, Berhalter said.

“A.J. has come a long way since his rookie year. He's going to continue to grow,” Berhalter said. “His strength is that he can play a variety of positions and has had good performances at all positions. I wouldn't necessarily tag him at one position but I think as a coach, you need flexibility, you need to be able put a guy into a number of positions and you definitely have that in A.J.”