Fully healthy at last, Kovalenko adding integral element to LA midfield

Veteran midfielder brings physical dimension to the center of the park

Dema Kovalenko

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CARSON, Calif. — At the
start of the 2010 season, Dema Kovalenko was supposed to play a key role in the
LA Galaxy’s midfield.

But an early season hamstring
injury derailed any hopes of stability and consistent playing time for the
veteran who played the full 90 minutes in each of the Galaxy’s first two games
of the 2010 season.

But now Kovalenko is back, and he
appears to have re-captured his place in the starting XI. After missing more
than three months as a result of the injury, Kovalenko has slowly worked his way
back into playing shape and last Saturday played 90 minutes for the second
consecutive match, even scoring his first goal in a Galaxy uniform in the 3-1
win over Columbus.

WATCH: Kovalenko makes it 2-0 for the Galaxy

“I’ve been back training, but
it’s different," Kovalenko said. "When you’re on the field, when you’re training
or in a game, it feels a lot different. I played 90 minutes last week and Bruce
gave me 90 minutes [Saturday], and I feel a lot better. But I know I have to get
a little sharper, more fit a little bit, but it will
come.”

Kovalenko played in the Galaxy’s
2-0 win over Chivas USA on
April 1 but suffered a hamstring strain in pregame warmups ahead of the win at
Houston on April 10, and did not play a league
game again until July 22 against San
Jose. He came off the bench a few weeks later at home
against Chicago, but then saw no activity until
the teams met again at Toyota Park more than a month
later.

While his appearance alone isn’t
enough to halt turn LA' s summer swoon, Kovalenko does add a noticeable bite and
tenacity to the squad when he is on the field.

“His intensity in the midfield
and work ethic is important,” Galaxy coach Bruce Arena said. “This is a physical
league, and we’ve missed some physical dimensions, and Dema brings
that.”

With Kovalenko fully fit and
available for each game, the competition for starting spots increases. Neither
Michael Stephens nor Chris Birchall, who have made 44 starts between them this
season, have started the last two games in which the Galaxy have taken four of a
possible six points and snapped a two-game losing streak. Instead, Kovalenko
paired with Jovan Kirovski against the Fire and then with Juninho in central
midfield last weekend with Kirovski moving up front. But despite the heavy
competition for sports in Arena’s starting midfield, further crowded by the
return of David Beckham, who made his 2010 Galaxy debut against the Crew,
Kovalenko is confident in his ability to remain in the starting
lineup.

“You’ve always got to be
confident as a player, but the team changes," he said. "Every guy in this locker
room can do well, starting from the youngest guy, Tristan [Bowen] and the other
guys. Everybody is getting healthy now, David’s back and it’s going to be
tough.”

Ultimately, though, Kovalenko
sees the benefits of depth in the midfield.

“I think it’s going to be good
for the team," he said. "It keeps you on your toes knowing if you don’t do your
job, somebody will take it. It’s good for everybody, and we have a good group of
guys. We compete against each other but we understand. We’re here for a reason,
and that’s to win.”

The Galaxy enter Saturday’s match
against D.C. United with a chance to run their unbeaten streak to three games.
While that was commonplace early in the year, LA have not had a three-game
unbeaten streak in league play since June 5, when they beat Houston 4-1 to run
their overall record to 10-0-2.

Saturday’s win over Columbus was encouraging,
Kovalenko said, but the consistency must be there.

“Last year we got to where we
wanted to be, but didn’t finish,” he said. “This year, we have the same team,
we’re a good enough team and I think we have the best team in the league but we
have to show it. I can say it but we have to show
it.”

“If we come out and play like we
did [Saturday], we’re going to be tough to beat.”

 

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