CARSON, Calif. – A little more than a year ago, Leonardo was blossoming into a standout defender. The LA Galaxy center back was a mainstay, having played every minute in the first seven games.
But in stoppage time of the seventh game, everything went wrong. Leonardo tore the anterior cruciate and lateral collateral ligaments in his right knee during the Galaxy’s 2-1 win over the Chicago Fire.
On Tuesday, though, Leonardo finally hit the pitch once more. The big Brazilian played 15 minutes in the Galaxy’s reserve team friendly against the LA Blues. It was not necessarily the grandest stage, but it was an important step forward.
“Psychologically it’s big for him,” Galaxy assistant coach Curt Onalfo said after the match. “It’s been a long road and he’s really made good progress. It was really good to see him out there.”
Leonardo could help LA regain some of its defensive bite as the club have yet to pick up a shutout in eight games across all competitions in 2012. But jumping into starting lineup and sliding right into central defense is not exactly what he has in mind.
“It’s difficult,” he said. “This month, it’s been one year since I got hurt. I have a lot of desire to get back but I have to be smart about it. I have to respect my teammates as well. There are a lot of players in that position too so I have to respect them.”
Another thing he said he needs is more time, both in training and in games or game-like situations. Leonardo has been training with the squad for the most part over the last several weeks, but more is necessary.
“I felt good but I need more games, more rhythm,” he said. “Eleven-on-11 is different than playing in small [sided] games I’ve been doing. I need more time and more reserve games.”
Playing in more games and in more rigorous training sessions will also help cure him of another issue.
“I feel a bit more mechanical," he continued. "When I go to stop, I automatically use my left knee instead of the knee I injured. I think with more time, more rhythm, that will go away. I think it’s just psychological.”
Though he is eligible to come off the injured list ahead of Saturday’s game against FC Dallas, both Leonardo and Onalfo said not to expect a full return just yet.
“He’s made significant progress,” Onalfo said. “Now the next step for him is going to be to train consistently, getting more minutes and more 11-vs.-11 stuff. We want to get him back as quickly as possible, hopefully in the next month we can incorporate him more and more into the stuff we’re doing with the reserve team.”
Luis Bueno covers the LA Galaxy for MLSsoccer.com and can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.