CARSON, Calif. – Adaptability and resiliency, two of the cornerstones of the LA Galaxy this season, will be put to the test once again in Friday night’s showdown with the New York Red Bulls at The Home Depot Center.
Head coach Bruce Arena and his staff have taken great satisfaction in building a team that prides itself on its depth. But Friday’s matchup between the Eastern and Western conference powers will mark one of the biggest challenges of the season. Center back Omar Gonzalez will serve a one game suspension for yellow card accumulation while Gregg Berhalter, who returned to the field in training this week for the first time in more than a month, is still is not ready to make his first appearance since the last meeting between the Galaxy and Red Bulls. Additionally, A.J. DeLaGarza, who has also been used in central defense this season, has a left knee strain and is questionable for this week’s game. Like Berhalter, DeLaGarza has been on the field for parts of the team’s training sessions this week but is not at 100%.
That leaves the likes of Leonardo, who missed the win over D.C. United with a left quad injury, and Yohance Marshall, who played the full 90 minutes in last Saturday’s 2-1 comeback victory over United, to man the center of defense. Last week’s game marked the MLS debut for Marshall, who had been recalled only a week earlier from his loan assignment with the Austin Aztex of the USSF Division 2 Pro League.
“It’s been a challenge, that’s for sure,” Arena said about his reconfigured back line. “We have to find the right combination of players for Friday, and I have confidence in the players we have.”
The Galaxy can take comfort in the fact Sean Franklin has started 12 of the last 14 games at right back, and Todd Dunivant has missed only two games at left back this season. Dunivant and Franklin said they aren’t worried about the new-look pairing in central defense or how injuries and suspensions have sapped the reserves.
“We do need to get guys healthy, but Yohance stepped up when we needed him to and we’ve done that all year,” Dunivant said. “It’s always a concern when you have three center backs who are on the shelf, but we’ll make do.”
Said Franklin, “We have a good group of guys. Even though some guys are gone for us, Bruce built a team that has depth at that position. Guys are filling in this week, and I’m totally confident they’re going to do a good job.”
Leonardo, who did not play against D.C. United, has started nine games this season and has been impressive. Then there is Marshall, an undrafted free agent in 2009 out of the University of South Florida.
The 24-year-old played the full 90 minutes against D.C. United and drew universal praise for his ability to step into a difficult situation and hold his own.
“He might have had some nerves coming back for a week and then starting, but he did very well,” Franklin said. “When his number was called, he stepped right in.”
Marshall, who was praised for his level of confidence by Arena after the game, said once he got over his pregame nerves, he was fine.
“I’m nervous before every game,” he said. “That’s a natural thing since I’ve been playing. It wasn’t any different from any other game, but I felt better as the game went along.
“I came back with the intention if they need me I’m going to be ready. I worked hard every day and I got the call.”
He’ll likely get another call on Friday in one of the biggest games of the season, and the Galaxy are confident Marshall and the rest of the reshuffled defense will respond.
“It’s the sign of a good team when you have guys that can step up,”Dunivant said. “You can’t just rely on the same back four or back five. There’s going to be injuries, suspensions and call-ups. All of those things play into a season.
“If you want to win the Supporters' Shield and make a run at MLS Cup you have to have a lot of guys step up, and we’ve certainly had that.”
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