German Alegria

Defensive changes expected ahead of SuperClasico

CARSON, Calif. – Omar Gonzalez was in a private suite last Friday at The Home Depot Center, watching the LA Galaxy’s 2-0 loss to the New York Red Bulls. And he couldn’t stand it.

The reigning MLS Rookie of the Year, Gonzalez was suspended for the game because of yellow card accumulation – just as he was for a 2-0 loss to the New England Revolution on July 10. But after seeing the squad struggle in his absence, the 21-year-old vowed to start playing smarter.

“It was very frustrating,” he said. “I really wanted to be out there.

The crowd was amazing, but I’d rather have the crowd watching me out there playing.

“I don’t want to be in that position again. I hated it.”

He is expected to be back in his customary spot in central defense in Sunday’s Honda SuperClasico against Chivas USA, replacing either Yohance Marshall or Leonardo, who started in his absence against New York.

The return of Gonzalez will surely help the Galaxy defense and the back four could be further bolstered by the potential return of his preferred partner in central defense, Gregg Berhalter. Berhalter has not played since a 1-0 victory at New York on Aug. 14 because of an illness and then a neck strain.

Berhalter just recently returned to full training and looks ready to go, although match fitness figures to be a problem for the veteran who turned 37 last month and has missed the last six games.

But maybe not.

“He’s looked fine,” left back Todd Dunivant said Wednesday after training. “Fitness-wise, Gregg has always been kind of a physical freak when it comes to that. I wouldn’t count him out in terms of that.

“In terms of his soccer side, knowing the game and knowing where to be and the right positioning, he’ll be fine.”

Gonzalez said he can’t wait to be paired up again with his old defensive partner. Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena has yet to decide on his lineup for Sunday, but Berhalter has at the very least gotten himself into the discussion to partner Gonzalez.

“It’s looking that way,” Gonzalez said. “Hopefully we don’t miss a beat, and hopefully it’s just like the way it was in the beginning.

I’m very happy to have him back, and hopefully we’ll get another shutout.”

Gonzalez admitted he has missed Berhalter’s presence on the back line.

“Having a player out is always bad and during these recent months we’ve had a bunch of people miss time,” Gonzalez said. “Gregg brings a certain amount of leadership to the game that always makes my part a little bit easier. I always loved having him back there.

“Our team is based on being very strong defensively, and when we are we win those games. It will be great to have a solid back four again.”

Berhalter admitted his recent inactivity has been his toughest stretch since breaking his right foot three times in a two year span earlier in his professional career.

“It’s been terrible,” he said. “I really liked what we were building on the season. I felt good about my condition, my old form and to miss six games toward the end of the season is tough. You look at the big picture, and there’s still some games left in the regular season and there’s still the playoffs.

“You’ve got to put that all in perspective and just move forward.”

Berhalter, asked if he was ready to start Sunday against Chivas USA, took a wait-and-see approach.

“We’ll have to look as the week progresses,” he said. “We still have four or five days until the game, so we’ll have to check that out.”

He did, however, know what he can bring if he does get the call.

“Hopefully, I can help organize a bit and keep the team in good shape. Communication is important,” he said.

“I’m hoping I can come back and put myself in position to help the team.”

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