CARSON, Calif. – A.J. DeLaGarza has bounced around between right back and center back during his nearly five-year career with the LA Galaxy, even sprinkling in some time at left back. But now, with less than two months remaining in the MLS regular season, it appears that the 25-year-old defender has finally found his calling.
DeLaGarza has started each of the Galaxy’s last five league matches on the right side of defense after moving periodically center back and right back early on in the season. During LA’s 1-0 defeat to the Colorado Rapids last week, DeLaGarza continued to perform well along the right side of defense as he provided his usual level of steady defense while also springing forward into the attack at times.
“I’m getting more comfortable with the ball at my feet,” said DeLaGarza. “I’m getting my confidence up, which is helping me get more touches with the ball and I’m trying to get forward.”
Whether it is longtime teammate Omar Gonzalez or rookie Kofi Opare playing alongside him on the right side of LA’s center back pairing, DeLaGarza has equipped himself well on the flank. While Opare’s simple style has proven a complement to the equally industrious DeLaGarza, the defender has different responsibilities when playing alongside Gonzalez.
“Omar’s first look is up field to Robbie and Landon. He likes those diagonal switches and then his second choice is the simple pass. He’s a player that has that confidence to make those plays and even if he doesn’t then he’s still confident enough to do it again a second time,” said DeLaGarza. “He’s in that mindset so I have to get forward. I got to help the attack get width and send in some dangerous crosses, which is something that I don’t think that me and Sean [Franklin] did [against Colorado]. “
Part of the rationale behind DeLaGarza’s transition to right back has been the success of burly center back Leonardo, who offers Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena the type of size and physicality that he’s long since sought from his center backs. The move has also afforded LA’s staff the chance to push Sean Franklin into right midfield and allow him to use his speed to make runs behind the defense.
Although the move to right back has been a transition for DeLaGarza, associate head coach Dave Sarachan believes that he has the physical—and mental—makeup for the position.
“A.J. has some experience at that position and now that he’s played it, he’s getting more comfortable and keeping the balance of going forward and keeping the line with the other back three,” said Sarachan. “I’ve always said that wide players have to have a high IQ because you’re dealing with time and space and some players when it’s hectic, they’re better. With A.J., he knows how to deal with that and he has a clear understanding of what is required in that position.”
Just who he’ll be tasked to shut down on Saturday at RFK Stadium remains something of a mystery however. Over United’s last four matches, they’ve opted for a different left-sided midfielder each time meaning that there could be any number of candidates that might lineup against DeLaGarza.
But the match won’t be the only significant event for DeLaGarza when the team travels to the District.
A native of Bryans Road, Maryland and graduate of the University of Maryland, DeLaGarza will have plenty of friends and family in attendance on Saturday. In fact, the DeLaGarza clan has bought more than 120 tickets for the match against United and he’ll be escorted onto the field by his sister’s son Dominic during the pregame ceremony.
With a chance to see family and friends—and visit his favorite sandwich shop, Potbelly’s—in the cards, DeLaGarza is eagerly looking ahead to the trip to RFK.
“I haven’t played in there two years now because we played them at home last year. I always have my family and friends at the game,” said DeLaGarza. “It’s good to play in front of them and have them all be there and watch. It’ll be a good tailgate and I’m sure that they’ll be pretty loud.”
Adam Serrano is the LA Galaxy Insider. Read his blog at LAGalaxy.com/Insider and read his blog at LAGalaxyInsider@Gmail.com