CARSON, Calif. – LA Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena may be having an issue or two with his team’s inconsistency this season, but he’s had no such qualms with a certain member of the back line.
It’s surprisingly not Omar Gonzalez whom Arena has been praising lately for his play in central defense but it is Leonardo, a 27-year-old Brazilian who has recovered from a potentially career-threatening knee injury suffered almost four years ago and is playing arguably some of the best soccer of his career.
“Right now Leonardo is playing very well,” Arena said after training this week. “He’s healthy and he has a lot of experience now.
“He’s a little more comfortable in our setting.”
Leonardo, along with Juninho and Alex Cazumba, originally joined the Galaxy on loan from Brazilian side Sao Paolo in 2010 and made his MLS debut on March 27 against the New England Revolution. His size (6 feet 2, 185 pounds) and athleticism figured to be perfect fits on the back line but he was plagued by injuries, none of them more serious than the one which occurred April 27, 2011 at Toyota Park in Bridgeview, Ill. He tore the anterior cruciate and lateral collateral ligaments in his right knee in a 2-1 victory over the Chicago Fire and his career appeared to be in jeopardy.
He played in seven games that season before the injury, did not play in a single game the following year and made only 14 appearances in 2013. But he did play in 24 games, including 20 starts, last season and has started each game next to Gonzalez this year.
“I’m happy,” he said. “I feel fit and healthy. I don’t think about my knee anymore. That’s no longer a problem.”
Galaxy veteran A.J. DeLaGarza, who has been Leonardo’s teammate since the latter first arrived on the club, said he’s frequently been impressed with the young defender.
“I think he’s been pretty consistent over the years,” DeLaGarza said.
“Obviously a couple of games, like we all do, he’s made some plays that we regret or messed up. He hasn’t had those plays this year. I think right now he’s confident. And when he’s confident he’s a good player.
“I think what he does particularly well is he’s a ball winner. He’s strong and quick. Right now he’s consistent and playing well and I expect to see him in there week in and week out.”
Leonardo, whose rights were acquired from Sao Paolo on a free transfer on Feb. 7, 2012, said he would like nothing better.
“I thank God for the opportunity,” he said. “I just want to play hard.
I feel good and it’s good to be playing more. It’s nice to be in good shape all the time.”
Leonardo said it’s all about having some fun along the way as well.
“In Brazil,” he said, “you have to play happy. You have to have the will to want to play. A lot of players want to be in my position. I try to be happy, be available every day and do whatever I can do.”