Partnership Renewed

Gonzalez and DeLaGarza form formidable duo in central defense

Omar Gonzalez

Photo Credit: 
Victor Decolongon

It was just like old times
for the LA Galaxy in last Saturday's 2-1 victory over Real Salt Lake. It was not just because the
defense continued its stellar play of late -- just one goal allowed in four
games -- but A.J. DeLaGarza and Omar Gonzalez
were back together again.

The second-year defenders
were in the middle of the back line, something that hadn't occurred since
December of 2008, when they helped lead the University
of Maryland to the College Cup
championship with a win over the University
of North Carolina at Pizza Hut Park in Frisco,
Texas.

Gonzalez had been manning
his customary position in the middle since he joined the Galaxy last season and
DeLaGarza had been out wide. But with injuries to central defenders Gregg
Berhalter and Leonardo prompting some roster reshuffling, the move to restore
the former partnership made sense. Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena even
approached Gonzalez early last week and asked him who he was more comfortable
with in the middle of the defense -- DeLaGarza or Sean Franklin -- and the
decision was a no-brainer as far as Gonzalez was concerned.

"I told Bruce I've
never played with Sean, so put A.J. back there with me," he said. "It
turned out for the best. A.J. played a great game and I think as a whole we did
very well."

The Galaxy defense had
played 311 minutes to open the season without allowing a goal before Real Salt
Lake's Kyle Beckerman
scored just before halftime. That marked the first regular season goal allowed
by Los Angeles
since a 2-0 loss to the Columbus Crew on Oct. 26 of last season.

Much of that success can be
attributed to the play of Gonzalez, who went on to become MLS Rookie of the
Year in 2009 and started in all 30 of the club’s regular season games.
DeLaGarza was solid as well in playing 22 games, including 21 starts. Both
players admitted there is a certain chemistry between them, having honed their
partnership in college. They know each other's tendencies and watch out for
each other.

"Whether him being to
the right of me or the left of me, either way I love having him back
there," Gonzalez said.

"I've played with him
for four years," DeLaGarza said, "so I know him a little better than
anybody else here. There really is a comfort level."

From an appearance
standpoint, the combination is an unusual one.

Gonzalez stands 6-5 and
weighs 210 pounds. DeLaGarza is not quite 5-9 and weighs no more than 145 pounds.
Gonzalez is a force who is difficult to move off the line, but don't discount
DeLaGarza's physicality for his lack of size.

"He weighs what, a buck
45?" Gonzalez asked with a grin. "But A.J. is a tough, little guy.
He's quick and I'm big. I'm not slow, but A.J.

makes up for me sometimes
and I make up for him sometimes. I think we just have a great combination
together."

DeLaGarza said the
differences between playing defense in the middle of the field as opposed to
out wide are striking, particularly from a physical standpoint.

"You're dealing with
guys in the middle who are a lot bigger than you, a lot stronger," he
said. "You also have to read the plays a lot faster in the middle. It's a
lot more demanding.

"It's a lot different
here compared to college. You have to be more aware of the ball coming over the
top. Beckerman sometimes was kicking it by me over our heads. I tended to drop
off a little too much instead of holding my line, but it was good overall.

"I thought we did fine.
There was nothing too dangerous, except for one play. I thought we did well as
a unit, not just me and Omar."