CARSON, Calif. – With four players away on international duty, the LA Galaxy will have to make changes almost everywhere for this weekend's showdown with Colorado – up front, on the backline and in the nets .
Most of these are simple, straight swaps, and the best options seem obvious. Replacing Omar Gonzalez in central defense is something else entirely, and given the Galaxy's defensive form – three straight shutouts, including a CONCACAF Champions League win over Cartaginés – following a long, difficult stretch that cost them a dozen points, the moves Bruce Arena makes on the backline could determine how things go Saturday night at the StubHub Center (10:30 pm ET, watch on MLS Live).
Arena and his staff have three legitimate options: second-year defender Tommy Meyer, a key piece in LA's run to the MLS Cup title last year; rookie Kofi Opare, who has gained his bosses' trust with his progression this summer; and A.J. DeLaGarza, who has spent most of his four-and-a-half years with the Galaxy in the middle – but isn't the likely choice.
Leonardo will take on added responsibility against the quick, athletic Rapids in his partner Gonzalez's absence, and his chemistry with whoever slides in next to him will be crucial for Galaxy success.
“It's going to be a situation where we're going to have to talk a lot and everyone is going to have to step up a little bit,” said left back Todd Dunivant, the most experienced of LA's defenders. “Whether it's Tommy, whether it's Kofi – whomever they put in there, communication's going to be the biggest thing. Those guys have played in big games before for us, and this is where the experience sets in.”
Meyer has five starts in central defense this year, but none since the Galaxy's 2-0 loss at Colorado in late July. Opare, who returned this week from a knee infection that left him available for last weekend's victory over San Jose, has played in only one first-team competitive match, but he was very good in the 2-0 CCL win over Cartagines on Aug. 20. And DeLaGarza has been LA's right back for the past month, and moving him to the center means changes at two other positions, with Sean Franklin dropping to the backline and Hector Jimenez stepping into midfield.
“We've discovered a little more depth now that we've seen Kofi in a real game, and that gives us options,” associate head coach Dave Sarachan said. “Kofi is a very good one-vs.-one defender. He's strong, he's learned how to get little advantages as a defender, he's good in the air, and I think what we've been pleased with is his composure with the ball, making passes out of the back and choosing the right moments. He's still got a ways to go.”
Meyer started all six playoff games last season but hasn't been utilized as often in year two as in his rookie year, but he was good in LA's scoreless draw with San Jose in an MLS Reserve League match last weekend.
“The issue with Tommy that we felt is he needed to be harder, he needed to be stronger,” Sarachan said. “On the tackle and in confrontation and marking guys in boxes and having a real edge to him. I think he's a smart kid. He's learned that he's been punished when he hasn't had those moments of strength and competitiveness in one-vs.-one battles.
"Now that he's gotten better, he also brings a sense of experience. He's played in big games, and the occasion won't faze him.”
Leonardo is confident in both.
“It's going to be a lot of responsibility,” the Brazilian center back said. “And we need to get used to playing games without Omar, because Omar is going to be with the national team a lot.”