BAYAMON, Puerto Rico – The LA Galaxy brought veteran cover to Puerto Rico for nearly every position on the field. But not at right back. There, a second-year winger with little backline experience has been given the nod for Wednesday night's CONCACAF Champions League clash with the Islanders (8 pm ET/ 5 pm PT, Fox Soccer, LIVE CHAT).
Hector Jimenez, who emerged in his sophomore campaign as a more-than-viable right-sided midfielder, will get his second start on the backline for the Galaxy's first team, and if he's still transitioning to the role – while continuing to battle for playing time farther up the wing – he's energized by the challenge.
“It's a position I've got to get used to a little bit more and play a little bit more minutes there, but I feel comfortable,” Jimenez said following the Galaxy's training session Tuesday at Estadio Juan Ramon Loubriel. “Bruce [Arena] gives me the confidence, and the guys on the backline, as well.”
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The backline quartet – Jimenez, veteran Andrew Boyens and rookies Tommy Meyer and Bryan Gaul – was exquisite in the 4-0 triumph three weeks ago over Puerto Rico at the Home Depot Center, and they're expected to team up again Wednesday, although Arena wouldn't reveal his plans.
Jimenez, who made his first appearance at right back in a May 8 Reserve League game against San Jose and picked up another 60 minutes in a Reserve League win last week over Portland, admitted he anticipated he'd get the call.
“Most likely, I'll be playing right back, so I try to defend a little bit and try to attack,” he said. “It might be Mikey [Stephens] on the right [in midfield], so we're going to try to combine well and create some trouble for them on [their] left.”
They teamed together that way in the first meeting.
“I like it,” Stephens said. “He's really fit, and he's willing to get forward. It takes a lot of pressure off me, not being a guy who really likes to get down the line so much, so if I have him behind me, I know he's going to be coming the whole game. He's very relentless going forward, and I like that.”
That has plenty to do with Jimenez's skill set. He's fast, has good foot skill, works well with a partner – usually Sean Franklin – and emerged this season as a rising standout on the right wing.
He made just four first-team competitive appearances as a rookie, all as a winger, and didn't see time for LA's first team this season until May 23. Since then, he has started 16 games on the flank, all competitions and friendlies included, and figured to be LA's first choice at the position until Swedish veteran Christian Wilhelmsson was signed nearly two weeks ago.
Jimenez admits he needs work on the defensive responsibilities at right back, that it's “definitely something I've got to get used to,” but going forward is like second nature. Especially with Stephens in front of him.
“[We're a] nice little combination,” Jimenez said. “Mikey helps out a lot, too. He's a guy who likes to run, so he does well defensively and offensively. We'll try to create some trouble for [Puerto Rico].”