Three for the U.S.
CARSON, Calif. - For much of the 2010 MLS season, the LA Galaxy had the league's best defense. And while that defense had its share of issues down the stretch, the club featured a strong backline nonetheless, with three-quarters of Bruce Arena's back four listed at 25 years of age or younger.
It's only fitting then that those same three Galaxy defenders were called up to the U.S. national team on Tuesday. Omar Gonzalez, Sean Franklin and A.J. DeLaGarza were all called into the U.S. squad by head coach Bob Bradley for the national team's January camp, to be held at The Home Depot Center starting Jan. 4. The trio then could play for the U.S. in their first game in 2011, against Chile at The Home Depot Center on Jan. 22.
Beyond that, though, where could the club's three star defenders land?
How he got here: MLS Rookie of the Year in '09, MLS Defender of the Year finalist in '10; earned first and only cap in August against Brazil.
Short-term U.S. prospects: Decent. Central defender is not an area of strength on the U.S. roster and Gonzalez could possibly provide depth at the Gold Cup this summer.
Long-term U.S. prospects: Excellent. Gonzalez could slide into the U.S. National Team picture quickly, but a more likely scenario is that he spends 2011 learning the international game while continuing his standout play with the Galaxy.
Gonzalez's name is not a surprise. It seems like only a matter of time before he breaks through to the national team. However, it seemed as if that would be the case with Michael Parkhurst and Chad Marshall, talented MLS defenders who did not and have not reached the levels of a Jay DeMerit or even former MLSer Clarence Goodson. Gonzalez has all the physical tools to be a difference-maker with the U.S. but needs to carry his play over internationally. With an extended time to show the U.S. coaching staff what he can offer the team, Gonzalez’s path to the national team will begin in earnest at The Home Depot Center.
How he got here: MLS Rookie of the Year in '08; started 25 games and had six assists last season.
Short-term U.S. prospects: Suspect. Franklin will need time to convince the U.S. coaching staff that he belongs as a national team regular.
Long-term U.S. prospects: Strong. Right back is another spot where the U.S. will need to add depth to in this current World Cup qualifying cycle.
Steve Cherundolo is established at right back but after him there is no replacement screaming to fill in. Franklin could provide if not a long-term solution then certainly some depth. His defensive skills and speed are assets but what could set him apart is his ability to provide service from the right flank. Franklin’s progress with the Galaxy has been steady and despite the potential presence of Frankie Hejduk on the team, he will enter the 2011 season with the right back spot locked down.
How he got here: 17 games played in 2010, filled in admirably in central defense late in the season and in playoffs.
Short-term U.S. prospects: Tricky. De La Garza has just 39 MLS games under his belt and breaking through at this level quickly with little experience seems like a longshot.
Long-term U.S. prospects: Decent. Few expected DeLaGarza to have the impact he’s had in his brief MLS tenure, so he’s proven he can pull off surprises.
All across the backline, the U.S. is in a position of need. Need proof of that? Look at the 2009 Gold Cup Final pasting against Mexico and the United States’ penchant for early goals in South Africa. The biggest knock on DeLaGarza is his size. At 5-foot-9, DeLaGarza may not fit many pundits’ or supporters’ view of what an ideal defender should be like. But DeLaGarza did well to counter those doubts in several games down the stretch of the 2010 season, most notably in the Galaxy’s Western Conference Semifinal Series against Seattle. DeLaGarza might have to battle for a right back spot or central defense role with the U.S. but that he’s on the radar at all and will have a chance to do so speaks well of his ability and how far he’s come along.