CARSON, Calif. – Tommy Meyer may be a first year defender playing in his first MLS Cup, but his success has come as no surprise to the LA Galaxy.
The rookie from Indiana has looked right at home in the LA Galaxy back four since stepping into the lineup in the 35th minute of LA’s 1-1 draw with the Colorado Rapids on Sept. 30 after A.J. DeLaGarza suffered a left knee sprain. Fortified by appearances in CONCACAF Championships League and MLS Reserve League games, Meyer hasn’t missed a beat during his nine consecutive starts –including five in the postseason—since DeLaGarza’s injury.
While many on the outside fretted that Meyer would not be able to rise to the occasion, his partner in central defense, Omar Gonzalez, admitted that LA had immense faith in the 22-year-old center back.
“He’s done well; he’s a good player,” Gonzalez said. “I’m not going to say that I’m surprised because with the way that he worked hard this year, when he got his opportunity, everyone saw that he’s done what he needed to do to stay on the field. He was that extra help to get us to the Cup.”
Throughout the postseason he has provided that additional edge at timely moments, whether it was his timely pass that sparked the counterattack that led to Robbie Keane’s second goal in LA’s Conference Semifinal second leg in San Jose or his role in stopping Fredy Montero in LA’s series with Seattle Sounders FC, Meyer has come up big time and time again.
But MLS Cup 2012 promises another challenge for LA and Meyer in the Houston Dynamo.
For that reason, it’s fortuitous that to Meyer’s left on Saturday will be one defender with experience of being a key member of an MLS Cup winning team as a rookie. After being drafted by the San Jose Earthquakes from Stanford University in 2003, Todd Dunivant was a staple at left back for the ‘Quakes playing in 30 regular season matches while making one appearance in the postseason.
“It’s all new. As rookie, everything that you do is new. It’s just another game, but it’s hard when that’s your first time seeing it. It’s easy to get swept up in it and kind of be wide-eyed, but he’s shown throughout the playoffs that he’s not been like that,” said Dunivant. “He’s been able to be calm and that’s a testament to his personality. That’s what he’s like, he’s not a guy that gets overly exuberant or lets his emotions get the best of him. He’s smart, he’s measured, and it makes a difference especially at center back.”
But whether Meyer starts on Saturday against the Dynamo remains a question mark as DeLaGarza is nearing full fitness after training with the club for the past several weeks. Although the hoopla and concern may be enough to shake some rookies—as well as veterans—Meyer remains measured and focused on the task at hand.
“I try not to think about it at all,” Meyer said. “It's up to Bruce and [how we perform in] practice, and you just kind of go about the same way you prepare for every game. That's what I've been doing the whole week, and I think that's probably what A.J.'s been doing, too.”
On Saturday, Meyer will face more than the Houston Dynamo; he’ll also take on his childhood friend and college teammate Houston forward Will Bruin.
The relationship between the Meyer family and the Bruins is a result of the close friendship between the players’ fathers Keith Meyer—a former star at Indiana who helped the Hoosiers win Division I titles in 1982 and 1983—and Bill Bruin. As a result of their fathers’ close friendship, Meyer and Bruin have played together since age 12 when they were coached by Meyer’s maternal uncle Tommy Howe at distinguished St. Louis youth club Scott Gallagher.
Later, the two players became teammates at Indiana University, where they were instrumental in helping the Hoosiers extend their streak of consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances to 22 during their time together—the streak is now at 24. With years of training field battles in the back of his mind, Meyer knows just how talented the Dynamo forward is.
“He scores goals, he finds himself in the right spots all the time and he works hard to get in those spots,” the rookie defender said. “There are plays that you don’t think that he’ll get into that he will. That’s something that you have to keep an eye on because he’ll pop up in spaces that you don’t expect him to.”
This season has been a breakout one for Bruin, who tallied 12 goals in the regular season as well as four in postseason action. On Saturday, Bruin is expected to play a key role in the Houston attack that will likely be out to press Meyer and the Galaxy back four from the outset.
After spending three years as Bruin’s teammate at Indiana, Meyer has placed a keen eye on his friend’s maturation in his second season in MLS.
“From when he left college, you could definitely see that he’s different because he’s definitely more technical and his movement has been changed since he’s a bit more fluid. He’s a great player and has made a lot of progress over the last couple of years.
“It’ll definitely be a battle because we know a bit about each other. Being a defender, it’s definitely nice to have played against him before,” added Meyer. “I’ll know his tendencies and sometimes you go into games not knowing about a forward is going to do so, it’ll definitely help.”
Bruin and Meyer weren’t alone at Scott Gallagher as during Meyer’s youth, the youth club housed Galaxy forward Pat Noonan and Houston midfielder Brad Davis, the latter of which left quite the impression on the young center back.
“He was the most skilled guy on the field,” Meyer said Davis. “He was in high school and would run camp when I was little – that's when I got to know him. He was definitely the most technical guy out there.”
Does their experience mean anything come Saturday? That remains to be seen.
“It’s a good question...sometimes you don’t know which way they go and whether it favors one or another. At the end of the day, it’s not like basketball where they’re constantly matched up, it’s free-flowing and it’s whoever is better on the day,” said Dunivant. “I think a lot of that can be overblown a little bit, but they do know each other’s tendencies and they’ve obviously played with each other so it’ll be interesting to see how that plays out.”
One thing is for sure though, there are no trash talk texts going back and forth between the two old friends ahead of the biggest match of their careers.
“None,” Meyer said with a laugh. “We might not talk until after the game.”
The rookie from Indiana will have plenty of friends and family at the match as they look to watch the defender and the Galaxy attempt to win their fourth championship.
It may be easy for the 22-year-old to reflect on the journey that has taken him from the soccer fields of St. Louis, Mo., to Bloomington, Ind., to MLS Cup in Carson, Calif., but the Galaxy center back insists that the time for reflect has long since passed. He’s focusing on the task at hand.
“I’ve already had that moment,” said Meyer with a laugh. “I’m done thinking about it; I’m just concentrating on the game.”
Adam Serrano is the LA Galaxy Insider. Read his blog at LAGalaxy.com/Insider and contact him at LAGalaxyInsider@Gmail.com