A veteran approach

Gonzalez and DeLaGarza reflect on Barca and Milan

Gonzalez vs Barcelona

Photo Credit: 
GABRIEL BOUYS / Getty Images

The LA Galaxy is expecting a
Rose Bowl crowd rivaling that which attended last year's friendly against FC
Barcelona, which attracted more than 93,000 fans, for Saturday's match against
Real Madrid.

The atmosphere figures to be
electric, much like it was a year ago when the Galaxy put on an entertaining
effort in a 2-1 loss to the then-European Champions, Barcelona, but it shouldn't be a problem for Omar Gonzalez and A.J. DeLaGarza. The second-year
Galaxy defenders vividly remember what it was like a year ago, facing not only Barcelona but Italian
powerhouse AC Milan in another friendly, and how the excitement was just short
of overwhelming for both of the matches. But now it is a year later, they have
more than a season of MLS competition on their resumes and they are approaching
Saturday's much-anticipated game like grizzled veterans.

Well, almost.

"I remember last year …
my eyes were as big as can be," Gonzalez, the reigning MLS Rookie of the
Year, said with a grin. "This year I'm a little bit more calm and just
looking to go out there and have as much fun as possible, just like last year.

"There's going to be
some amazing players on the field (Saturday) … five of them won a World Cup.
These games are always fun and you just have to go out there and play good
soccer. Just try and put on a show."

The two friendlies were
particularly daunting for DeLaGarza, who went head-to-head with AC Milan's
Ronaldinho in the first game and then-Barcelona forward Thierry Henry in Pasadena, but he more
than held his own against two of the world's most highly regarded players.

"I get nervous before
every game, but obviously seeing him across the field is pretty
intimidating," DeLaGarza said about Ronaldinho. "He's a strong guy,
too … I tried to jump on his back one time when he wasn't moving. He's a great
player, the same as Henry. They bring two different dynamics to the game; Henry
was strong and fast while Ronaldinho obviously was the more creative, the playmaker
and the passer.

"We'll see what happens

Gonzalez said he feels much
better-prepared than a year ago.

"I have a year and a
half under my belt and a national team camp," said Gonzalez, who has been
called up by U.S. men's
national team coach Bob Bradley for next week’s friendly against Brazil.
Gonzalez, Landon Donovan and Edson Buddle will leave after the game on Sunday
morning and fly to New York to prepare for the
match, which will be held Tuesday at the New Meadowlands Stadium in East
Rutherford, N.J.

Gonzalez replaced the
Columbus Crew's Chad
Marshall, who was withdrawn from the 18-man roster. "I've seen somewhat of
a different level, so I think I'm a little more prepared.”

"It's tough going from
league games where every play matters to these games where they're fun and you
have big crowds. I'm just happy to be part of it and I'm up for every game. It
doesn't make a difference what game it is; I'm just going to be prepared."

The same goes for DeLaGarza.

"I think we know what
to expect," he said. "I remember last year at the Rose Bowl, it was
nerve wracking at first, but once I got that first touch I settled down. We
know what to expect from last year and seeing how those teams took the games.
They took them seriously last year, and hopefully Real Madrid does, too.

"I think it was a great
experience for the both of us and what we can take from those games. It's
something we'll never forget."