CARSON, Calif. – The LA Galaxy’s inexorable rise up the Western Conference standings can be traced to a number of factors.
Some might point out the recent goal-scoring exploits of Robbie Keane, tied for fourth in MLS with New York’s Thierry Henry with 11 goals. Others may bring up the play of David Beckham, who has an MLS career-high 7 goals and 9 assists, second on the team behind only Landon Donovan’s 11, or the recent goal scoring exploits of Juninho.
But another reason, arguably one of the biggest, for the Galaxy’s improved play of late is the defense. A back four consisting of left back Todd Dunivant, center backs Omar Gonzalez and A.J. DeLaGarza and right back Sean Franklin, combined with goalkeeper Josh Saunders, has allowed just one goal in LA’s last four league matches, going 3-0-1 in that time.
It is a foursome that can trace its roots back to 2009, when Gonzalez and DeLaGarza were drafted third and 17th overall, respectively, in that year’s MLS SuperDraft and Dunivant was acquired in a trade with Toronto FC. Franklin had been drafted fourth overall out of Cal State Northridge a year earlier and was the reigning MLS Rookie of the Year.
The beneficiary of this quartet’s recent steadiness has been Saunders, who also re-joined the Galaxy on a permanent basis in 2009 after spending the final months of the season with the club on loan. He calls their collective understanding of each other the key to their success.
“They know what each other’s going to do,” Saunders said. “If you watch this group their spacing is so good that if a play breaks down the other guy is there to pick up the pieces. And their knowledge of the game and where to be for each other.
“They can put out fires before they even begin.”
Saunders said Franklin is especially effective for his ability go forward and defend at the same time. He called DeLaGarza the ultimate utility player for his ability to play anywhere on the back four and marvels at his consistency. The 6-foot-4 Gonzalez, Saunders said, covers so much space and makes it easier for Saunders to defend on crosses. Dunivant, the oldest member of the group at 32, simply is reliable, Saunders went on.
“You know what you’re going to get from him,” Saunders said. “He’s going to give you everything he’s got.
“It’s a pleasure to watch all of these guys play.”
DeLaGarza, who jokingly referred to the Galaxy’s back line as the “Fab Four,” said their time together – this marks their fourth season together on the Galaxy – has made a world of difference.
“That’s the main thing for successful defenses,” DeLaGarza said.
“We’ve been together for a while. When Houston won a couple of championships, they had the same team year in and year out.”
Added Franklin, “We’ve had chemistry over the years. It’s a comfortable thing to play with guys you’ve played many games with, and right now we’re playing well.
“But we know our job’s not done.”
Dunivant doesn’t underestimate the return of Gonzalez, who missed most of the season while he recovered from major knee surgery.
“It’s nice to see him out there again,” Dunivant said. “You can see his physical presence and what a difference it makes. He’s confident, and you can feel that throughout the team.”