CARSON, Calif. – Injuries on the back line, along with the absence of Omar Gonzalez because of his duties with the U.S. Men’s National Team, have forced LA Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena into an almost constant defensive reshuffling this season.
In that regard it appears he may have stumbled onto something.
The duo of Leonardo and Tommy Meyer is the latest to grace the center of defense as LA prepare for Sunday’s match against Chivas USA at StubHub Center (5 p.m., Time Warner Cable SportsNet, Univision Deportes).
Leonardo has started eight games this season but just the last two with Meyer, who has four starts in five appearances. Leonardo and Meyer not only are two of the Galaxy’s youngest defenders (Leonardo and Meyer are 26 and 24, respectively) but among the team’s most physical players.
“They’re both good center backs,” Arena said. “Tommy has taken advantage of his opportunity and they position themselves pretty well.
“Tommy is a good passer out of that position, and he’s gotten to be a much better defender in his space on the field. Leo has always been a real solid defender, and now that he’s gotten a number of games under his belt we’re seeing a lot more consistency.”
Meyer, a former first-round pick (19th overall) out of the University of Indiana in the 2012 MLS SuperDraft, had been enjoying a strong season with LA Galaxy II before being pressed into duty with the first team. Various injuries (to Todd Dunivant and James Riley, for example) along the back line forced Arena to look for help and he found it in the form of the 6-foot-2, 175-pounder.
Leonardo, who originally came to the Galaxy on loan from Sao Paolo in Brazil in 2010 along with Juninho and Alex Cazumba (who’s no longer with the club), has made an almost miraculous recovery from a potentially career-threatening injury. Leonardo tore the anterior cruciate and lateral collateral ligaments in his right knee against the Chicago Fire in April of 2011 and didn’t appear in another game for almost two years.
But here he is now, with nine appearances and eight starts in 2014 and combining with Meyer to form what appears to be an effective partnership.
“I like playing with Tommy,” Leonardo said. “We are a good pairing. He’s a young guy, very strong and mature. He’s a good passer, he’s learning and he keeps a good line.
“Just a good defender.”
There are those who feared there might be a language barrier, with Meyer speaking no Portuguese (Leonardo’s native language), but Leonardo’s English has improved to the point where there is no problem whatsoever.
“He lets me know what’s going on. We’re able to communicate very well,” Meyer said. “I think we both kind of work off each other. We understand each other’s movements and I think we’ve done a pretty good job of doing that.
“We’re getting better each game.”