CARSON, Calif. – To say it has been a group effort by the LA Galaxy this season is not characterizing their success with some oft-used cliché.
Head coach Bruce Arena couldn’t agree more.
Ask him, for example, to name a most valuable player on this year’s team and he can’t do it.
“I couldn’t give you the answer to that question,” he said after Wednesday’s light training session as they begin preparations for MLS Cup against the Houston Dynamo on Nov. 20 at The Home Depot Center. “When I kind of looked at this stuff all year, when they had players of the week or players of the month or player of the year, it would be hard for me to necessarily name a Galaxy player. All we do is play as a team.
“All teams like that are successful.”
The Galaxy are blessed with stars such as David Beckham, Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane, who understandably receive much of the team’s publicity, but there are others who perhaps don’t get the credit they deserve but have been critical to the team’s impressive run to the MLS championship game.
Here are four of the so-called “unsung heroes:”
Josh Saunders – The 30-year-old, now in his second stint with the club, stepped in when goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts went down with arm and leg injuries and the Galaxy defense didn’t miss a beat. He fashioned a 14-2-4 record and nine shutouts during the regular season and playoffs and is in top form after playing in just 10 regular-season games in his previous three seasons.
“I think getting to play on a more consistent basis has helped his confidence and his decision-making in the goal,” Arena said. “They always say goalkeepers reach their prime around 30. Goalkeepers don’t get the same kind of match experiences in training as they do in games.
“The more games you play the better you get in goal.”
A.J. DeLaGarza – The second-round SuperDraft pick in 2009 out of the University of Maryland is listed at 5 feet 9 and weighs just 150 pounds, but don’t underestimate him because of his lack of size. As veteran defender Gregg Berhalter once said, “He keeps getting knocked down and getting back up.”
DeLaGarza, who took over as central defense partner of 2011 MLS Defender of the Year Omar Gonzalez when Berhalter and Leonardo were lost to injuries, is one of only two Galaxy players to have played in at least 40 games in all competitions this year. Todd Dunivant is first with 42, followed by DeLaGarza at 41.
“A.J. is there each and every game for us,” Arena said.
Todd Dunivant – Also in his second stint with the Galaxy after an earlier stay in 2005-2006 and has been like a rock at left back. He played in a team-high 32 regular season games in 2011 and has been praised by Arena for improved passing that resulted in five assists.
“Todd’s not the fastest guy, but he really outsmarts players,” Gonzalez said. “It’s great having him game in and game out knowing you’re going to get the best from him.”
Juninho – The 22-year-old from San Jose dos Campos, Brazil originally signed with the Galaxy on loan from Sao Paulo in December of 2009 and has developed into one of the top holding midfielders in MLS. He also has been an offensive force with six goals and three assists in all competitions while forming an All-Star partnership with David Beckham in the center of midfield.
Arena said the unheralded performances of these players is a reflection of the team’s quality depth.
“I think it’s been a group effort, is the way I always think about it,” he said.