CARSON, Calif. – There will be an Omar Gonzalez-sized hole in the LA Galaxy defense for this weekend’s clash with the Colorado Rapids on Saturday, and how LA manage his absence may determine their ability to earn three points on the road.
With Gonzalez looking to aid the U.S. National Team in their quest for the 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup title, Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena must look to his bench to fill in for his star defender. Arena has a trio of center back options (Leonardo, Tommy Meyer and Kofi Opare) to slot into the 2013 MLS All-Star’s spot, but he has yet to tip his hand on who will get the call for the match at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park.
However, two of the defenders standout above the rest.
“Not yet,” said Arena when asked if he’s chosen a replacement. “They have all different qualities. You saw Tommy last year as he gets a number of games, he [then] gets in a rhythm and plays with confidence. I think that he’s at that point where the reserve games have helped him. His last game when Omar was gone, he played very well…Obviously; Leonardo is quite capable of stepping in as well.”
Although Arena has not declared a starter yet, one Galaxy defender believes that the front runner is Meyer, who has started five matches this season across all competitions and got the call the last time the U.S. international was absent as the Galaxy played to a scoreless draw at home against the Portland Timbers on June 19.
“We’ve played games without Omar and Tommy has stepped in and played well. I’m assuming that he’s going to be stepping in for Omar this week,” said defender Sean Franklin. “We’ll have a few [lineup] changes, but I think that the guys are looking forward to new guys stepping in and playing well.”
Stepping in during an absence is nothing new for Meyer, who performed admirably filling in for the injured A.J. DeLaGarza last season as he started the club’s last 10 matches in all competitions, including all six games in the MLS Cup Playoffs as they Galaxy claimed a second straight MLS Cup title.
But without consistent playing time with the first team this season, the 23-year-old has depended on stints with the Galaxy’s MLS Reserve League side. Meyer has started five of the six games that the reserves have played this season, but has performed particularly well in his last two outings.
Even though he’s been surpassed by DeLaGarza in the defensive pecking order, Meyer remains focused knowing that opportunities for playing time—like Saturday’s match against Colorado—will come.
“I try not to get too frustrated. You have to stay focused mentally. If you are presented with the opportunity then you’re ready for it. You’re not just taking a break the whole time. You just have to work hard, you can’t just sit back in relax,” said Meyer. “I basically approach the season the same way that I did last year, which is to make sure that I’m ready to play all the time.”
Although Meyer may be considered the favorite, he’s not the only option as burly Brazilian defender Leonardo may get the opportunity to play alongside DeLaGarza. Leonardo has made five appearances this season with four starts, but has not appeared in a match since April 13 when he was sent off in the 60th minute of the Galaxy’s 1-0 defeat to FC Dallas.
The new father of a baby girl born just a week ago, the Brazilian has battled back to full fitness after suffering a left ankle injury last month.
As for his chance to start on Saturday?
“It’s a possibility, but we’ll have to see,” said the Brazilian.
Whoever gets the start in place of Gonzalez, Meyer is confident that the Galaxy will be able to step up against the Rapids.
“There’s always opportunity when someone else is gone. Me and Leo are ready, no matter what Bruce decides,” said Meyer. “We just have to prepare and we’ll do so for the next couple days before the game.”
Adam Serrano is the LA Galaxy Insider. Read his blog at LAGalaxy.com/Insider and contact him at LAGalaxyInsider@Gmail.com