CARSON, Calif. – The LA Galaxy are at the halfway point of training camp and have less than a month to go before their CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal opener against Toronto FC on March 7 inside the Rogers Centre in Toronto. Then it’s just three more days before they kick off the regular season at The Home Depot Center against Real Salt Lake.
All systems appear go at this point despite the absence of three key players (Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane are in England on loan while Juninho is yet to arrive from Brazil), central defender Omar Gonzalez being out indefinitely after undergoing major knee surgery and more than a dozen new players on the preseason roster.
It’s not exactly business as usual for the defending MLS Cup champions, but the returns of midfielder Juninho, striker Edson Buddle from Germany and central defender Leonardo – “You’re always excited to see faces you know and you trust,” new No. 1 goalkeeper Josh Saunders said -- have helped ease any doubts.
“I was hoping there would be a lot of new guys coming in eager to play and there are,” Saunders said. “I think it’s provided good competition for us and we’re going to go forward from here.”
Head coach Bruce Arena said preseason camp has gone pretty much as he expected, but with a surprise or two along the way. Central defender Tommy Meyer, who was taken 19th overall in January’s SuperDraft, has been impressive “and that’s encouraging,” Arena said. He also has been pleased with midfielder Marcelo Sarvas, who was signed on a free transfer from Costa Rican club and Champions League foe Alajuelense to ease the loss of Juninho before the latter was loaned back to the Galaxy by his Sao Paolo club. Arena also has been pleased with Buddle, who recently rejoined the club after a year-long stint in Germany.
“It looks like he’s starting to get back into form,” Arena said.
The same goes for the club in general, he said, only days before the Galaxy head for Tucson, Ariz., to take part in the Desert Diamond Cup, a two-week competition featuring the Galaxy, Real Salt Lake and the New England Revolution. All games will be played at Kino Veteran Memorial Stadium in Tucson.
Arena and his staff have been careful not to push the players too hard, considering the 2011 season didn’t end until early December and there was barely a two-month break before the 2012 camp opened.
“I think everything is going as expected,” Arena said. “We had a long season last year and a short break. We’ve been pretty cautious about not going too crazy in the early going. We’ve moved our team forward at a reasonable pace, and the last couple of weeks it has gotten a little bit better. I think we’re getting close to understanding our group. Getting the soccer a little sharper will be the challenge for the last half of the preseason, for sure.”
A.J. DeLaGarza, who joked he felt “like a new guy” at the start of camp because of all the new faces, agreed things are moving along.
“Obviously we’re still missing some key players who are still over in England, but we’re getting prepared for the season,” he said. “Guys are going to push themselves more this year because we’re going to have a target on our back. We’ll have to be prepared every game, and I think we’ll be all right.”