CARSON, Calif. – When LA Galaxy defender Leonardo suffered a season-ending knee injury, head coach Bruce Arena did not hesitate in filling the hole.
The coach slid A.J. DeLaGarza into central defense against Portland, LA’s first game since Leonardo tore ligaments in his knee, and the Galaxy defense did not suffer, shutting out the Timbers in a 3-0 win.
DeLaGarza could possibly remain in central defense for the time being. Still, simply because the third-year man is starting center back now does not mean he will change his approach to the week of training and matches.
“You try to go through the same motions every week, even if you’re not starting,” DeLaGarza told MLSsoccer.com. “You’ve got to give your best effort, make yourself better every week, make the team better every week. No matter if you’re starting or the last guy on the bench, you’ve got to be ready to play. I’ve done that this season.”
DeLaGarza started the season in central defense, in part because of injuries. Omar Gonzalez was hurt and unable to play against Seattle on March 15, so Arena turned to DeLaGarza and Leonardo, and the Galaxy recorded a 1-0 victory over the Sounders.
After three games, Gonzalez was healthy enough to start and paired with Leonardo in central defense, and the versatile DeLaGarza played in other spots on the field, namely at right back.
DeLaGarza is more than comfortable partnering up with Gonzalez. The two defenders have been teammates and friends for many years, going back to their college days with the University of Maryland.
“There is a comfort level there,” DeLaGarza said. “At the beginning of the season, it was me and Leo and we hadn’t really played together since he’s been here. Being next to Omar, there is no language barrier and it makes it a little easier on the both of us.”
Gonzalez, meanwhile, said the center-back pairing will continue to operate as smoothly as it has been.
“There’s really no change to it," he said. "I’ve played with him so much, it’s just pretty natural for me and I think it’s pretty natural for him. There’s not really much change to that approach, we’ve just got to keep starting games off strong and finishing them off strong, too.”