CARSON, Calif. — After battling a mysterious ailment that kept him off the playing fields for more than two months, Gregg Berhalter returned to the Los Angeles Galaxy lineup in last Saturday’s 3-1 loss to Colorado.
While the Galaxy were unable to claim the Supporters’ Shield in the game, having Berhalter back gave the team a much-needed shot in the arm.
“It’s always great having Gregg back there,” defender Omar Gonzalez said. “I thought he did well when he was in there. I thought his fitness was pretty good and we’ll see how he does next week against Dallas. I’m looking forward to it.”
Berhalter played 73 minutes in the loss to Colorado. Having last played on Aug. 14 in a 1-0 win at New York, Berhalter said he was excited about the match from the moment he stepped on the field.
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“It felt great, just the little things, the battle of the game, the running, the competition,” Berhalter said. “Just from the national anthem, the juices start flowing again. It was great.”
Without Berhalter, the club had three different center backs play alongside Gonzalez. But the rhythm and connection between Gonzalez and either Yohance Marshall, Leonardo or A.J. DeLaGarza was not as evident as it is with Berhalter. Teammates have referred to the Berhalter-Gonzalez pairing as one of, if not the league’s, best center-back tandem, and Berhalter’s presence had an immediate impact on his teammates.
“We missed him for a few weeks now,” LA right back Sean Franklin said. “He’s a good voice to have back there and we were fine with him starting. He didn’t seem rusty at all. We had a really good week of training – he was vocal, he was moving, he was playing.”
Perhaps the view from the bench was different than what the players saw, though.
“He was obviously a little bit rusty. He got tired,” Galaxy coach Bruce Arena said. “At times in the first half, he played well, had the team organized pretty well. It’s natural that he’s not going to [be fully fit] at this point because his layoff was pretty long.”
Berhalter rated his own fitness as strong.
“I thought my fitness was alright – better than expected,” he said. “I think I could [play 90 minutes] if I had to.”
Berhalter, though, was removed with a little more than a quarter-hour remaining as the Galaxy tried to overcome a two-goal deficit. Speedy midfielder Alex Cazumba, who subbed in for Berhalter, couldn’t do much to help turn the score around.
Still, the 73 minutes the center back did see brought together the pairing that was quite strong for much of the first three months of the season. With Berhalter there, Gonzalez said the team has a different look to it.
“It’s a very organized back line and the midfield is always closer to us and providing more help,” said Gonzalez. “He just adds a lot of direction and organizing to the field.
“I thought we played well defensively, just unlucky for those breakaways to happen and then the own goal,” he added, talking about the manner in which the Rapids buried three tallies.
While Berhalter has taken the first step towards recovery, he now needs to continue building on that performance.
“The important thing now is minutes,” Galaxy captain Landon Donovan said. “Maybe it’s better now that next week means a lot. He’s going to play a meaningful game against good forwards.”