LA's Leonardo unfazed by competition at defender

Brazilian says he is better off this year after 2010 of adapting

CARSON, Calif. – While 2010 wasn’t a throw-away year for Leonardo, he was not quite a fixture on the LA Galaxy’s back line.

The Brazilian center back experienced a baptism-by-fire after arriving in the United States in 2010. He was forced to adapt to a new team, new teammates and a new league.

And that was the easy part. Adjusting to life in a new country and culture also took some getting used to.

Now, a year later, the newness of it all has long worn off, and, along with teammate and countryman Juninho, Leonardo is ready to progress on the field.

“We’re better off now,” Leonardo told MLSsoccer.com. “At first, we didn’t speak any English at all, but now we can speak Spanish, English and we are improving on it a lot.”

Leonardo spoke Spanish for his interview with MLSsoccer.com. While teammates have said the communication is still not quite at 100 percent between the Brazilian duo and the rest of the team, Leonardo said he is doing his part to inject English words and phrases during matches.

“I don’t think in Portuguese [on the field],” Leonardo said. “Only the bad words come out.”

Coming out of preseason, Leonardo emerged as a starter in central defense along with A.J. DeLaGarza. The duo has started in both of the Galaxy’s games this season. Omar Gonzalez and Gregg Berhalter have been injured and unavailable, but the Leonardo-DeLaGarza pairing has fared well.

The two players helped keep a tight lid on Seattle’s attack in the season-opening 1-0 win at Qwest Field, then did well to bottle up New England’s attack after a shaky start on Sunday. Leonardo, in particular, recovered from an early error where he lost his mark on New England's Shalrie Joseph, leading to a free header and a lead for the visitors.

“He started the first four games last season before he got injured," head coach Bruce Arena said. "He’s a very good young center back. We’re not at all surprised.”

Leonardo said he has learned quite a bit from his fellow central defenders, with whom he is in a weekly competition for two starting spots.

“Gregg [Berhalter] has played in Europe, he has a lot of experience and he is important for the club and Omar [Gonzalez] is good and will continue to develop,” he said. “I enjoy playing with them and with A.J. DeLaGarza. In that aspect I don’t think Bruce is worried, having four good players at his disposal.”

Once Berhalter and Gonzalez regain their health, there may be more of a logjam at the position, but everyone will have opportunities to play: It’s just a matter of preparation.

“We all have to be professionals because there are lots of games this year, not just the regular season but the Open Cup and the [CONCACAF Champions League],” Leonardo said. “We all have to be prepared for them.”

 
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