CARSON, Calif. – LA Galaxy center back Leonardo has carved out a place in the starting XI and now with his partner in central defense Omar Gonzalez gone away with the U.S. National Team, the Brazilian is ready to lead the back line.
Plenty will be expected of Leonardo in Saturday’s match against the Colorado Rapids as the Galaxy will be without Gonzalez—as well as forwards Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane and starting ‘keeper Jaime Penedo—due to international duty. Leonardo appears up to the task, however, as the Brazilian has started the team’s last four MLS regular season matches—the last two being shutout victories for LA—as well as all three matches in the Guinness International Championship last month.
Full of confidence after his string of starts, Leonardo believes that he can pick up the slack with Gonzalez away.
“It’s a big game, but it’s not the first time that it happened. There was a game in March [against the Rapids], where Omar wasn’t here that I started and we won 1-0,” said Leonardo. “It’s just a case of everyone working together and trying to get the result.
“It’s going to be a lot of responsibility, but we need to get used to playing without Omar because he’s going to be with the national team a lot,” he added. “I’m confident that we are ready.”
Life hasn’t always been easy for the 25-year-old as injuries have marred his career as dealt with knee issues during his first three seasons with LA and then overcame an ankle injury that caused him to miss several matches in June and July.
Now that the man they call Leo is finally healthy, LA associate head coach Dave Sarachan believes that the Galaxy are starting to see the player that they’ve sought after.
“Now that he's gotten this good, long stretch of being available, he's gotten into a rhythm,” Sarachan said. “And when you get into that rhythm and you get minutes, you get confidence…now the true player that we felt we knew a year and a half ago is starting to emerge.”
With that “true player” emerging, it is likely that Leonardo will be one of LA’s starting center backs for the foreseeable future as he provides the type of physical attributes that head coach Bruce Arena has sought out in central defense.
“I think it's important to have center backs with the profile of center backs,” Arena said after the Galaxy's win over Vancouver two weeks ago. “Leonardo gives us that.”
Just who partners alongside Leonardo is a question mark as Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena will have a plethora of options to start in central defense, but the two frontrunners appear to be young center backs Tommy Meyer and Kofi Opare. If Arena does opt to place one of the young center backs alongside Leonardo, it would cause the least amount of shift of LA’s lineup as opposed to sliding DeLaGarza from right back to central defense, which would cause additionally shifts up the lineup.
Both defenders are in form at the moment as Meyer is coming off a solid performance during the club’s scoreless Reserve League draw with the San Jose Earthquakes in which he partnered alongside midfielder-turned-central-defender Pablo Mastroeni. Meanwhile, Opare shined in LA’s CONCACAF Champions League match on Aug. 20 as LA blanked C.S. Cartaginés, but missed out on Sunday’s reserve match due to a knee infection. However, completely recovered from the injury, he’s expected to challenge Meyer for the starting role.
No matter who starts in the back, Leonardo has confidence that the two youngsters are up to the task.
“They’re two good players, who have been getting fitness with the team and starting to gel with the club,” said Leonardo. “They just need to continue to keep working hard to make the decision hard for Bruce.”
Adam Serrano is the LA Galaxy Insider. Read his blog at LAGalaxy.com/Insider and contact him LAGalaxyInsider@Gmail.com