Robert Mora/LA Galaxy

After missing the end of the 2012 campaign, A.J. DeLaGarza is confident heading into new season

CARSON, Calif. – The 2012 season was a difficult one, to say the least, for LA Galaxy defender A.J. DeLaGarza.

The team’s poor start – LA were 3-8-2 and last in the Western Conference at one point – was hard enough on the former two-time national champion at the University of Maryland. But not being able to contribute in the club’s ensuing, stunning run to its second consecutive MLS Cup championship was the worst feeling he could have imagined.

READ: AJ DeLaGarza reveals knee tear, aims for playoff return

“You always want to be on the field as a professional athlete,” the 25-year-old defender said. “You come out here every single day just to be in those big games. To not be there was obviously disappointing.

“But at the same time our team got the job done. I got my second ring, so I can’t complain too much.”

DeLaGarza, a second-round pick (17th overall) in the 2009 MLS SuperDraft, played in 30 games, all starts, last season before he was hurt in a Sept. 30 collision with the Colorado Rapids’ Omar Cummings. The result was a sprained lateral collateral ligament and relegation to the sideline for the remainder of the season, though he had recovered enough to be included in Bruce Arena’s 18-man squad against Houston in MLS Cup.

“Obviously the end of last year was rough on him,” Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena said.

But now DeLaGarza is ready to go. His knee is sound and he may be fitter than most of his teammates, thanks to his participation at a January camp for the U.S. National Team. He even went the full 90 minutes in a recent exhibition match against Real Salt Lake, an impressive feat considering that all others players are limited to 60 minutes of action at most at this stage of the preseason.

“I’m confident,” he said. “I feel good, though. I feel ready for another long season. This is the year I’m supposed to be in my prime now and I’ve got to be a leader on this team, more so than last year.

“After that start we had last year, I think I put a lot of that on my shoulders because a lot was expected out of me. This year it’s the same thing. Hopefully we start out better.”

Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena said DeLaGarza, who has made three preseason appearances in central defense and one at right back, is one player he’s never had to worry about.

“He’s done well,” Arena said of DeLaGarza’s performance in training camp. “A.J. is always fit, always active and always pretty solid. We’re never at any time where we’re disappointed in A.J.

“He’s just a real solid guy, a very good professional, a good player day in and day out.”

DeLaGarza said he is taking his self-imposed leadership duties seriously this season – “I think everyone’s looking to everyone to kind of step up,” he said – and has one goal in camp.

“I just want to be at a point where I was early in the year last year,” he said. “I want to be a leader on this team, be a starter day in and day out. Bring that energy, be dominant at my position.

“I want to be the best player I can be for this team.”