CARSON, Calif. – While his teammates were enjoying three days off for the Thanksgiving holiday, LA Galaxy defender A.J. DeLaGarza was hard at work with his sights set firmly on making the game day roster for Saturday’s MLS Cup.
The 25-year-old centerback has been sidelined with sprained left MCL since September, but resumed training prior to LA’s Conference Championship series with Seattle Sounders FC. With less than a week until MLS Cup, DeLaGarza admits that his condition is improving.
“I’m good. I’ve been training the last week or so, but I’ve been doing fitness for a couple weeks before that,” said DeLaGarza on Sunday. “Right now, I’m just trying to get my timing back, I gave up a PK [in training] today so it wasn’t good.”
As part of his quest to return to full health, DeLaGarza was one of several LA Galaxy players including forward Edson Buddle, who came in on Saturday for fitness work ahead of the final week of preparation for Saturday’s final against the Houston Dynamo. Although he remains listed as out on the club’s injury report—which will be updated for the first time since Nov. 16 on Tuesday—DeLaGarza believes that the holiday break may have helped his recovery.
“I’ve been running a lot, so maybe it helped me. I only took two days off, I did fitness yesterday so I didn’t take it completely off,” DeLaGarza said. “I was riding a bike and doing a little bit of stuff. I feel like I’ve already had my offseason, I didn’t play for a month so I’m just trying to get back into it.”
In DeLaGarza’s absence, rookie centerback Tommy Meyer has flourished alongside Omar Gonzalez, starting LA’s last nine matches since DeLaGarza’s injury. Even though DeLaGarza has repeatedly stated that he has the utmost confidence in Meyer’s abilities, he’s hopeful that he’ll be able to—at the very least—suit up on the bench come Saturday.
“That’s my goal, to be able to dress and be able to help the team if I can, no matter where that might be,” asserted DeLaGarza. “If that’s just a role player or playing, I’m ready for whatever.”
CARSON, Calif. – The match up in the MLS Cup may be the same, but the LA Galaxy know that the Houston Dynamo are a significantly different team this season than they were when they fell 1-0 to LA in the 2011 final.
When the final kicks off next Saturday, Houston will bring a high-powered squad to The Home Depot Center, one that includes midfielder Brad Davis—who missed the 2011 MLS Cup with a torn right quadriceps –, electric Honduran midfielder Boniek Garcia and midfielder Ricardo Clark, among others.
After a dominating performance that saw them slice through the Eastern Conference, the Galaxy are well-aware that they will face a challenge from Houston next Saturday.
“They're a better team,” Mike Magee said when asked about how this Houston team compares to the 2011 edition “They're definitely a better team. They've got more speed and, obviously, having Brad Davis back is going to help them. They got [second-year forward] Will Bruin scoring a ton of goals. They know what it's like [to be in a final] and they're similar to us in terms of experience and leadership, which is something we can't overlook.”
The experience of being in the final isn’t the only parallel that the two teams share as both advanced through the Knockout Round with Houston traveling on the road to defeat the fourth-ranked Chicago Fire. From there, the Dynamo defeated the Conference’s top-seed Sporting Kansas City in the Eastern Conference Semifinal before advancing past D.C. United in the Conference Championship to reach MLS Cup. While the Dynamo were mowing through the East, the Galaxy bypassed Vancouver Whitecaps FC in their Knockout Round match before defeating the Supporters' Shield winning San Jose Earthquakes and Seattle Sounders FC for the right to play for MLS' ultimate prize.
“They’re the same as us,” said Magee. “They definitely had their backs against the wall with that play-in game like we had. They definitely have a good story going.”
Although Houston began the postseason as the lowest seed in the Eastern Conference, with the second-lowest point total among all teams in the MLS Cup Playoffs, the Dynamo boast head coach Dominic Kinnear, who is one of two head coaches to lead his team to back-to-back MLS Cup titles, performing the feat during the 2006 and 2007 seasons.
The only other coach to repeat as champions? Current Galaxy boss then D.C. United head coach Bruce Arena from 1996 to 1997.
“Houston's not a team you want to overlook, no matter what seed they were," said Magee. “I think you always kind of get a feeling like they were going to win [the Eastern Conference], and any time Kinnear puts a team out there, they're going to give it their all. He's one of the best coaches the league's seen. You know what you're going to get. You're going to get a battle, and you've got to prepare for that.”
While the MLS Cup promises to be a battle, Magee believes LA stack up well with the Dynamo.
“I like my match up. I like all our match ups,” said Magee. “We’ve kind of proven in big games, we have players that can step up and rise to the occasion so I’m not worried about us.”
A week from now, the LA Galaxy will go for back-to-back MLS Cups against the Houston Dynamo at The Home Depot Center
If you're unable to make it out to The HDC on Dec. 1 then you'll have to catch the game on ESPN. The coverage from "The Worldwide Leader in Sports"' begins at 1:30 p.m. PT.
Ahead of next week's festivities, check out ESPN's "This is MLS Cup" commercial.
A few notes to get you through the morning and into your Saturday.
*Landon Donovan appeared on ESPN's College Gameday on Saturday serving as the "celebrity picker" for Saturday's College Football slate. The LA Galaxy captain revealed that he would have attended UCLA had he not signed for German club Bayer Leverkusen at age 16. During his picks, Donovan selected No. 1 ranked Notre Dame over USC -- a selection that he admits was influenced by Mike Magee -- and No. 8 Stanford over No. 17 UCLA.
*There are still two more days to vote for Marcelo Sarvas, who is in the quarterfinals of FutbolMLS.com's Latino del Año 2012 (Latino of the Year). The semifinalists will be announced on Monday.
*Across the hall at The Home Depot Center, Chivas USA's Juan Agudelo is making a good impression during his training stint with Scottish club Celtic. Could it lead to an extended training stint or perhaps a transfer?
*Lastly, a programming note, I'll be on Philadelphia's 860AM "Vuvuzela-blast" radio show at 1 p.m. PT talking MLS Cup and David Beckham. Be sure to listen along.
As you start to wind your night down, here are a few evening notes.
*LA Galaxy Under-18 midfielder Paul Arriola started and went 45 minutes, earning an assist as well as a yellow card in the U.S. Under-18 squad's 2-2 draw with Canada on Friday.
* U.S. National Team midfielder Jose Francisco Torres completed a move from Mexican club Pachuca to Tigres UNAL.
*2012 Rookie of the Year Austin Berry will join teammate Jalil Anibaba in a training stint with Spanish giants Atlético Madrid from Nov. 25 to Dec. 9. Anibaba is training with Atléti from Nov. 18 to Dec. 2
*Soccer By Ives released the first edition of their 2013 MLS Draft Big Board on Friday evening. Included in the 40-player list are seven players from five different California universities.
CARSON, Calif. – Jose Villarreal sounded his arrival in MLS with an late bomb against Vancouver Whitecaps FC for his first career goal back in July, but the 19-year-old forward believes that the events of 2012 are just the beginning of a promising career.
In his rookie season for LA, “the kid from Inglewood” as he’s called by some Galaxy fans has made 14 appearances in all competitive competitions, scoring two goals. The 19-year-old had an even larger impact in MLS Reserve League play, making nine appearances while scoring three goals. Although the youngster made only 11 appearances in MLS regular season and postseason play, Villarreal has become a key member of LA's rotation since being added to the club's roster on July 14 as he has made the game day roster in 23 of the Galaxy's last 24 games in all competitions.
Villarreal admits that while his season has been an incredible ride, he’s hoping for even more next year.
“It’s been an amazing season," Villarreal said after LA's final practice before the Thanksgiving holiday break on Wednesday. "I was just trying to come in as a rookie in the middle of the season and hoping to get some minutes. I feel happy but at the same time, not satisfied because I haven’t been performing the way that I want to, but I’ve been looking to get better and better for next year."
Lost in the shuffle of the craziness of the past week and the Thanksgiving Holiday, the Professional Referee Organization announced earlier in the week that newly crowned Referee of the Year Silviu Petrescu will officiate the 2012 MLS Cup between the LA Galaxy and Houston Dynamo on Dec. 1 at The Home Depot Center.
Petrescu worked 20 MLS regular season games this season as well as one postseason game -- LA's 2-1 win over Vancouver Whitecaps FC on Nov. 12. The Canadian referee officiated three matches apiece for the Galaxy and Houston as well as their May 26 meeting at BBVA Compass Stadium.
A complete breakdown of Petrescu's games with LA and Houston as well as his complete officiating crew is below.
HOUSTON DYNAMO vs. LA GALAXY
5/26 - HOU 2 LA 1. FOULS: 20 (10 for Houston and 10 for LA); CAUTIONS: 4 (1 for Houston and 3 for LA)
11/1 - LA 2 Vancouver Whitecaps FC 1. FOULS: 24 (12 for LA and 12 for Vancouver); CAUTIONS: 4 (2 for LA and 2 for Vancouver); PENALTIES: 1 (Converted by LA)
7/18 - Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2 LA 2. FOULS: 35 (16 for Vancouver and 19 for LA); CAUTIONS: 4 (1 for Vancouver and 3 for LA)
8/3 - HOU 2 New York Red Bulls 0. FOULS: 20 (10 for Houston and 10 for NYRB); CAUTIONS: 2 (Houston
3/11 - Chivas USA 0 HOU 1. FOULS: 26 (12 for Chivas and 14 for Houston); CAUTIONS: 1 (Houston)
2012 MLS Cup Officiating Crew
REFEREE: SILVIU PETRESCU
ASST 1: Daniel Belleau
ASST 2: Darren Clark
4TH: Hilario Grajeda
Marcelo Sarvas is into the Quarterfinals of FutbolMLS.com's Latino del Año 2012 or Latino Player of the Year.
Sarvas is matched up against FC Dallas' Panamaian forward Blas Pérez in the quarterfinals. The Brazilian, who joined the club from Costa Rican side Alajuelense during the offseason has made 37 appearances for the LA Galaxy in all competitive matches this year, tallying two goals and two assists. Meanwhile Perez made 20 appearances for FCD in 2012, scoring nine goals as well as four assists.
Whether you celebrate Thanksgiving or just Thursday, I wanted to take a moment to offer my thanks to all of those that have supported the LA Galaxy Insider since the blog's inception in July.
I know that I'm incredibly thankful to have the ability to serve as the LA Galaxy Insider and for all my interactions with players, journalists, staff, and fans.
On this holiday, a few members of the LA Galaxy including head coach Bruce Arena took part in the Foundations' Feast, which is an annual Thanksgiving Dinner for children and families in need hosted by the LA Galaxy Foundation and The Home Depot Center Charitable Foundation. Check out some photos from that event here.
One MLSsoccer.com reporter Jonah Freedman wrote the following piece stating how thankful he is for David Beckham's six-year career in MLS. Be sure to watch my interview with the LA Galaxy midfielder as we close into the final game of his Galaxy career, the 2012 MLS Cup Final on Dec. 1 against the Houston Dynamo at The Home Depot Center.
Have a Happy Thanksgiving.
To get you through the evening, here are a few links and notes from around the soccer world to take you to the Thanksgiving holiday
*There will be a professional women's soccer league in the United States in 2013, but there will not be a team in California. U.S. Soccer revealed the details of a new women's league during a teleconference with the media on Wednesday morning. The league, which will start in March or April of 2013 will consist of eight teams in Boston, Washington, D.C., Western New York, New Jersey, Kansas City, Chicago, Portland, and Seattle. Details of the new league can be found here.
*LA Galaxy Under-18 midfielder Paul Arriola started for the United States Under-18s as they defeated their Canadian counterparts, 3-1 on Wednesday at The Home Depot Center. According to reports, Arriola enjoyed a strong game, creating several dangerous scoring chances for himself.
*In MLS Cup news, Darrell Lovell of MLSsoccer.com reports that Houston Dynamo forward Calen Carr is "cautiously inching back to full health." The former University of California, Berkeley man picked up a left hamstring strain in the second leg of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against Sporting Kansas City. Carr scored four goals and two assists in 26 MLS Regular Season appearances for the Dynamo this season and has two assists in three games in the MLS Cup Playoffs.
*Chelsea FC have a new manager as former Liverpool FC and CF Valencia boss Rafael Benitez will replace Roberto Di Matteo at Stamford Bridge on an interim basis until the end of the year. Di Matteo was sacked on Tuesday afternoon after falling to Italian club Juventus in a UEFA Champions League match.