CARSON, Calif. – It was out of necessity more than anything, LA Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena admitted.
“We had no other choice,” he said. “There wasn’t a whole lot of genius involved in it.”
Arena was talking about the new-look of his defensive back line, which had been depleted by injuries earlier in the year. Leonardo was out after undergoing knee surgery. A.J. DeLaGarza couldn’t play because of a nagging foot problem. Omar Gonzalez was off for a new challenge in Mexico.
Arena was looking for someone – anyone – to partner with Jelle Van Damme, the Belgian international who joined the club in late January, and turned to none other than Daniel Steres, a Southern California native who had bounced around the minor leagues before signing with the five-time MLS Cup champions last December.
The unlikely duo has helped spark a defense that has allowed just eight goals, tied for second-fewest in the league behind Toronto FC’s seven, and continues to turn in solid work despite their limited time together.
The 32-year-old Van Damme was fresh off a lengthy stint with Belgian side Standard Liege when he arrived in Los Angeles. He also had played for Ajax in the Netherlands and Southampton in England and made 30 appearances with Belgium’s national team.
Steres, 25, who was born in Burbank, had no such pedigree. He originally was a Supplemental Draft choice by Chivas USA but was never offered a contract. He also spent time with the minor-league Ventura County Fusion, the Wilmington (N.C.) Hammerheads and the Galaxy’s USL side, Galaxy II, before the parent club signed him last year.
Despite their diverse backgrounds, the duo has clicked surprisingly quickly. They have missed only one game, the regular-season opener when Van Damme couldn’t go because of an ankle injury.
“They’ve been very consistent,” DeLaGarza said. “Their connection usually takes time, and those two seem like they’ve been playing together for a couple of years.
“It’s good to see.”
“They’ve done well,” Arena agreed. “Jelle’s experience has been good for Dan.”
Steres said he learns something from Van Damme almost every game. He also said the fearsome-looking Belgian is demanding, but not overly so.
“I think he expects a lot from himself more than anyone,” Steres said. “I wouldn’t say every play he’s chirping about little things, but he’s demanding with what he says. He’s a big presence in that sense.
“I didn’t know much about him. Once I heard he was coming here I was interested in seeing what he had to offer. I’m watching him now as he’s done really well.”
Van Damme, in turn, said he’s been impressed with what he has seen from his younger teammate.
“In general, he’s good with everything,” he said. “He’s progressed a lot from the preseason to now, and that all has to do with confidence. He’s what, 24, 25? You can only progress by playing games and he’s getting better and better every week.
“We understand each other well and we just want the same thing, and that’s keeping the zero, the clean sheets.”