CARSON, Calif. – As the LA Galaxy prepared to face the San Jose Earthquakes Sunday night, they knew they’d have to neutralize Quakes forward Chris Wondolowski, one of the top goalscorers in MLS.
The task was managed by a budding partnership in central defense for LA, with experienced veteran Jelle Van Damme and rookie Daniel Steres holding Wondolowski off the scoresheet in a tense 1-1 draw at StubHub Center.
“You know you’re playing against them,” Steres said. “You know you’ll be against [Wondolowski], and since he’s their main threat, we have to make sure he doesn’t get on the scoreboard. We did a good job of that today.”
Afterwards LA head coach Bruce Arena declared his satisfaction with Steres, who joined the first team in the offseason after two seasons captaining LA Galaxy II, and his veteran Belgian colleague Van Damme.
“He did well,” Arena told reporters after the match, referring to Steres. But the Galaxy head coach made sure to note that the responsibility of shepherding Wondo, who sits fourth in the MLS scoring race with seven goals, was handled well by both center backs.
“We did alright, keeping him at bay,” said Steres. “He had a couple chances in the first half, but we just tried to limit his chances, and keep a body on him at all times, and make sure he doesn’t get an open look.”
Steely defensive midfielder Nigel de Jong returned to the lineup after a lengthy absence imposed by suspension and injury, providing a valuable shield in front of the back four.
“It’s really good to have a guy that just sits in there,” said Steres. “He’s going to win all the tackles in front of you, so it’s good to have him back.”
There was one glaring breakdown, when San Jose's Fatai Alashe exploited a brief seam in the LA defense to head home the game's late equalizer. But the Steres-Van Damme partnership continues to develop as they play together more, and performances like Sunday's offer encouraging signs for Galaxy fans.
“We’re getting used to what each other do,” Steres noted. “Sliding, how we step, dropping, tucking, all that stuff, so it’s been good.
“We have ten games together under our belts now, so it’ll just get better as the season goes.”