CARSON, Calif. – When one of the LA Galaxy’s most important players returned after a prolonged absence, the stars finally aligned.
Struggling defensively all season, the Galaxy finally picked up a shutout on Sunday when the club knocked off Portland 1-0 at The Home Depot Center. That it coincided with Josh Saunders’ return was no coincidence, according to his teammates.
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“Consistent, good goalkeeping is a huge plus and a huge reason why you get shutouts,” defender Todd Dunivant said. “For a lot of reasons, we haven’t got shutouts this year, but having him back and having him play at the level he did [Sunday] was a big reason we got the zero.”
Saunders last played for LA on April 21, when he led the club to a 2-1 victory at Colorado. Just before the Galaxy’s April 28 match against FC Dallas, Saunders took a leave of absence for personal reasons and did not play in any of the team’s following seven league matches.
But Saunders returned over the break and promptly stepped into the Galaxy goal. Since his return, the LA netminder has given teammates a lift and reminded them why he’s an endearing individual.
“Josh was great," captain Landon Donovan said. "I think his attitude since he’s been back has been great. I guess everyone would say the same thing: It looks like he has some clarity in life. He looks humble, he looks calm. I thought he was excellent.”
While he was away, Sauders teammates and coaches stood by him. And although everyone seemed to welcome him back with open arms, if it had taken Saunders longer to come back, the team would have stood by that as well.
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“He’s a very likable person," Galaxy manager Bruce Arena said. "Obviously, he dealt with some difficult personal experiences, but the team supported him all the way and he was really happy to be back. To have an experienced goalkeeper in the goal certainly helps, and he made a couple saves in the first half that were big. Just having his experience I think helps the entire group."
Saunders was tested twice early on against the Timbers, and twice he responded. He turned away Kris Boyd with his face in the opening moments of the match then dove to knock a long-range shot from Boyd away with an outstretched arm.
Many pointed to their goalkeeper's return as the biggest difference vs. the Timbers, but Saunders was not about take all the credit for the team’s first victory since April 21 and first clean sheet in 17 games across all competitions.
“It was just one of those things where we all focused on the task at hand,” Saunders said. “If I was there to boost some other people’s confidence, then that’s great, but I feel like at the same time it was just another game where we were focused to win.”