CARSON, Calif. – Two members of the group were University of Maryland teammates taken in the 2009 MLS SuperDraft. Another is in his second stint with the Galaxy. The fourth member of the quartet came from a college that is not exactly known nationally as a soccer powerhouse.
But put this diverse group of Omar Gonzalez, A.J. DeLaGarza, Todd Dunivant and Sean Franklin in the same defensive unit, and you have one of the better back fours in Major League Soccer. They are among the main reasons why the LA Galaxy not only have the most points in MLS this season but one of its stingiest defenses as well.
“They know each other well,” Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena said. “They clearly do understand each other now and how we play. It’s certainly easier than it was a few years ago.”
Center backs Gonzalez and DeLaGarza were selected third and 17th overall, respectively, in 2009 and have been key figures in the Galaxy defense ever since. Left back Dunivant, acquired by the Galaxy from Toronto FC for allocation money in February of 2009, is the oldest player of the group at only 30 and quietly goes about his business. Franklin, taken fourth overall in 2008 out of Cal State Northridge, steadily is turning into a dangerous attacking player at right back.
They have been teammates for three years now and have spent countless hours together on the field in games and in training. Now they are about to play their sixth consecutive game together in Saturday night’s first leg of this season’s SuperClasico against Chivas USA at The Home Depot Center (7 p.m., ESPN2, ESPN Deportes).
DeLaGarza took over at center back for Leonardo, who was lost to a season-ending knee injury in a 2-1 victory over the Chicago Fire on April 17, and consistently draws raves for his physical play despite being only 5 feet 9 and weighing 150 pounds.
Dunivant calls him “a little warrior.”
“He’s out to prove he belongs,” Dunivant added, “and quite frankly he does.”
Gonzalez was thrust into a starting role from the moment he was drafted and not only is one of the top, young defenders in MLS but is deadly attacking set pieces, scoring once already this season.
“He’s a big presence back there,” Franklin said.
Franklin is the fastest member of the group and has impressed the demanding Arena with his growing penchant for joining the attack more.
“His pace is a big part of his game,” Arena said, “and his ability to get forward has been real good.”
Then there is Dunivant, a steady, unsung performer who also played with the Galaxy in 2005 and part of 2006. His teammates marvel at his consistency.
“He’s great at everything,” Franklin said.
“Todd has been under the radar for us,” Gonzalez said. “Everyone never really talks about him, but he’s one of the guys who consistently plays every game to the best of his abilities.”
So what makes this group so effective? Dunivant said it’s the collective mindset of wanting to improve a defense that just three years ago was the league’s most porous, allowing 62 goals in 30 games. That was in 2008. In 2009, when this quartet first stepped onto the field together, they allowed exactly half that many before shaving another five goals off their total last year, conceding a club record low of 26 goals.
While the numbers back up the group’s desire to improve, their familiarity with one another has played an equally important role.
“We’ve played together for quite a bit now,” DeLaGarza said, “and we know how to read other each other. We all do our part.”
Said Gonzalez, “We get along very well on and off the field, and that’s why we work together so well.
“I just love coming out here and playing with my back four.”