DeLaGarza's versatility helps LA's back line

Second-year defender can play centrally or on right

A.J. DeLaGarza

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With veteran central defender Gregg Berhalter on the mend, the Galaxy were forced to use Plan B: using Rookie of the Year Omar Gonzalez alongside Brazilian import Leonardo.

Despite not being able to fully communicate, Gonzalez and Leonardo formed a strong partnership early on. However, Leonardo hurt his thigh before last week’s match against Real Salt Lake.

In a pinch, Galaxy manager Bruce Arena turned to second-year man A.J. DeLaGarza—and despite the suddenness of the move, DeLaGarza was more than a capable fill-in, helping LA win their fourth game of the season.

And while center back might not necessarily be his full-time position, his versatility has helped out his team once again as the Galaxy beat Real Salt Lake, 2-1.

“I just want to make myself available wherever the team needs me,” he said.

DeLaGarza was a central defender during his college days alongside Omar Gonzalez at the University of Maryland. But so far his professional career has seen him as a wide player, mostly at right back.

His transition from the middle to the right went smoothly, but when necessity forced him to move back to central defense—even if for just one game—DeLaGarza responded.

“The big criticism coming from Maryland where I played center back was that I was too little,” said the 5-foot-9, 145-pounder. “I thought I did a good enough job to help our team.”

Missing Leonardo and Berhalter tested the Galaxy’s depth, but the defense came through in what players considered their toughest game of the season to date. Berhalter actually dressed for the game, but he had not been training regularly with the team in the weeks leading up to the match. The decision came down to Sean Franklin or DeLaGarza.

“You might as well play the two guys who have played probably 50-60 days together and we did that,” Galaxy coach Bruce Arena said. “We didn’t even hesitate. We thought he would do a good job, and he did.”

Against the Kansas City Wizards this Saturday, though, DeLaGarza could return to the right side of the field. Berhalter has been back training regularly with the team and Franklin, who has been playing on the right, is out with an ankle injury.

“We’re playing on a small field so Gregg’s fitness probably won’t hurt him as much, as say, on a big field like here,” DeLaGarza said. “If he plays well, we could do that this week.”