The LA Galaxy held the New England Revolution to only one shot on goal in last Saturday's 1-0 victory at The Home Depot Center in a continuation of a defense that developed into one of the stingiest in MLS last season.
Not even a new presence on the back line disrupted the group's effectiveness. Leonardo, taking the place of injured central defender Gregg Berhalter, who is out with a sore left knee, went the full 90 minutes and played as if he's been there for years. Leonardo, one of three Brazilians to join the Galaxy on a full-season loan from Sao Paulo, turned 22 in February but quickly has impressed teammates with his presence and savvy.
“He's got a lot of grit, he's a very hard defender who's young and athletic,” said left back Todd Dunivant, who had another Brazilian, Alex Cazumba, playing in front of him in Saturday's game. “Leo has stepped in and done an absolutely fantastic job. He's a guy you want next to you because he's going to battle. He's going to fight and cover for you.
“With him and Omar back there it makes our jobs easier on the outside. We can get forward a little more and help out on the attack as well.”
The slightly altered back four actually wasn't completely new. Head coach Bruce Arena had been experimenting with a number of combinations throughout the preseason and Leonardo got more than his share of playing time. If there was one concern on Saturday it was the language barrier. Leonardo and his fellow Brazilians understand little, if any, English except for basic terms like “front, drop, left and right.” Their new teammates, in turn, know only snippets of Portugese.
“Just the bad words,” goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts said with a grin.
“If he hears them (Leonardo) knows he's doing something wrong.”
Ricketts more than likely didn't have to use them Saturday. He made only one save and only rarely did the Revolution mount anything close to resembling a threat toward the Galaxy net.
“I'm not surprised. Maybe Bruce is a prophet,” Ricketts said. “That's the way it should be. I've done what, 10 years of work? Let me chill, relax.''
Omar Gonzalez, last year's MLS Rookie of the Year and Leonardo's partner in central defense in last Saturday's regular season opener, said the game plan against the Revolution was to keep things as simple as possible. He had played alongside Leonardo on a few occasions during preseason and thought they had meshed well. But that was preseason, when results were meaningless.
Gonzalez said he had only one concern Saturday.
“I was a little worried about the language thing,” he said. “But we're playing soccer and we both know the game very well. I think it's just a matter of understanding those barriers and trying to see things a little earlier and put out fires before they happen.
“We started off a little slowly in the second half with some balls being played over our heads, but we've been working on that in practice to make it better.”
The same foursome likely will start in Thursday's SuperClasico against Chivas USA, and Dunivant is confident the quartet will be solid again. The veteran defender said the foursome's solid debut is a reflection of the improved depth on this year's squad.
“We have a lot of guys that are going to have to step up this year,” he said. “You see that every year ... the successful teams are the ones where everyone contributes. You can't rely on just 11 or 12 guys to get you through the season.
”You really need a deep bench and guys who can contribute. If we're going to be successful this year in as many competitions that we're in, we're going to need a lot of guys to play a lot of minutes.”