CARSON, Calif. -- The LA Galaxy made a vital move this week by signing Uruguayan center back Diego Polenta to bolster a backline that underperformed last season as the team allowed 64 goals and missed the MLS Cup Playoffs for the second straight year.
He's a center back who can play on the left and has experience in Italy, primarily with Bari, and at home for four years with Nacional. His contract with the Montevideo powerhouse expired last June, and he arrives in Southern California following a six-month respite “in the countryside.”
“It was six months that I chose to be in this situation,” Polenta, who signed on Tuesday and was announced Thursday morning, said in Spanish during his first media session with the club at Dignity Health Sports Park. “Until there was a point that coach Guillermo [Barros Schelotto] called me, and I didn't think twice about accepting this challenge.”
Schelotto said he didn't “care about the last six months” and that Polenta stepped away from the game, that “he has a long time to recover and [get onto his] feet for the start of the season.” The Galaxy open March 2 at home against the Chicago Fire.
“He's a very good player, a young player with a lot of experience, because he's been playing in Italy and Uruguay, a high level,” Schelotto said. “I think he will [be a great addition] in defense.”
The move, made with Targeted Allocation Money, had been rumored since Schelotto took charge of the first team last month, and it greatly improves things at the back, where LA still need greater depth after the departures of French center back Michael Ciani and English left back Ashley Cole.
Jorgen Skjelvik, who teamed with Ciani much of last season, is penciled in at left back this year; Daniel Steres and Dave Romney, who manned the middle after Dominic Kinnear took over last September from Sigi Schmid, are the other center backs with experience. Second-year draftee Tomas Hilliard-Arce and third-year Homegrown defender Hugo Arellano also can play in central defense.
“We're excited,” club president Chris Klein said. “It's obviously an area of need for us and player that [Schelotto and new general manager Dennis te Kloese] had identified very early on, that they liked him a lot.”
Zlatan Ibrahimovic has liked what he's seen in training since Polenta arrived last week.
“[Uruguayan defenders] have a mentality that is hard and aggressive, and I like that,” the Swedish striker said. “He's comfortable with the ball, also, and he's training very hard now, so it's all about the preparation, and he's been here a couple of days. So far, he is looking good. ...
“He needs to train more [after being off for six months], play more to get into rhythm and get into condition to do what he's able to do. But what I see so far [is] that he's very comfortable and calm with the ball and without, [he's] aggressive, and he likes to defend.”
He was the Uruguayan Primera Division's defensive MVP in 2014-15, when Nacional won the title, and subsequently captained the team. When his deal with the club ended last year, he chose to take time off rather than accept reported offers from Atlas, Al-Ittihad and Leeds United. AC Milan also expressed interest last fall, according to reports.
“The last six months were more a personal decision, and the truth is it was really good for me,” Polenta said. “I have the best memories at that club, and I just wanted [time off]. I was a little bored of the day-to-day, so I decided to be alone and go live in the countryside.”
He said he gained “a lot of calmness” during his time off, enjoying life and being with his family.
“I had the ability to move to Italy when I was 14,” he said. “I was there for eight years, and I returned to Uruguay, and I have a lot of appreciation for [Nacional] while I was there. But I wanted to enjoy some of the stuff I missed when I left Uruguay so young. And I chose to take this time off for myself.
“I had offers, but I'm a person who does things on the moment, on the spot. I love living in the moment, and I think this now is my moment.”