CARSON, Calif. – The LA Galaxy defense, tied for second with the Colorado Rapids for fewest goals allowed in Major League Soccer, is about to get one of its biggest tests of the season.
It’s not necessarily in the form of the New England Revolution, Sunday’s opponent in Foxboro, Mass. (1:30 p.m., NBC Sports Network), but it is in the absence of center back Omar Gonzalez. The 24-year-old will be away from the team for a month because of U.S. National Team duties, but the Galaxy will carry on, according to head coach Bruce Arena.
“Omar is one of the premier defenders in the league, so you don’t replace Omar that easily,” Arena said earlier this week. “But we have a good group of players in the back. We’ve interchanged players since the beginning of the year, so there’s no reason to believe we can’t do it in an efficient manner and win games.”
There are two obvious candidates to replace Gonzalez in the center of the back line. One is Leonardo, who partnered A.J. DeLaGarza in the heart of the Galaxy defense on March 23 when the Galaxy beat Colorado 1-0 in a game that Gonzalez missed while on international duty. He has played in five league games, including four starts, this season but has not seen any MLS action since being red carded in the 60th minute of a 1-0 loss to FC Dallas on April 13. The other possibility is Tommy Meyer, a first round (19th overall) draft pick a year ago who has played in two MLS games, with one start, in the 4-1 win over Philadelphia on May 15, this season.
Both players stand 6-feet 2, although Leonardo is regarded as being a little stronger and more physical. Meyer, however, is one of the team’s better passers, according to Arena, and goalkeeper Carlo Cudicini praises his ability to read the game.
Either way, the Galaxy can’t go wrong. Arena said he expects the defense, coming off an impressive 4-0 victory over Seattle in which the Sounders were not credited with a single shot on goal, will continue to be stingy.
“They’ve played very well, they really have,” Arena said of the defense. “Since the beginning of the year, we had some issues in the closing minutes of games, but we certainly got that better against Seattle. They’ve done a real good job. I think Carlo has 19 saves on the season, which is very low.
“I think our back line can make changes; we’ve rotated there throughout the year. We’re prepared for the departure of Omar.”
Make no mistake, he definitely will be missed. Fellow defender A.J. DeLaGarza called him “a big part of what we do in the back.”
“On the ground, not much gets past him,” DeLaGarza said. “In the air nothing’s getting past him. Everyone has to step up. Now that he’s leaving hopefully we can continue to do what we’ve been doing.”
Cudicini is confident that won’t be a problem.
“We’re going to miss Omar for sure,” he admitted. “But I’m sure the team has enough to try and cope with his absence. I’m sure whoever steps in, whether it’s Leo or Tommy, I’m sure will do a good job.”