DeLaGarza, Gonzalez look to bring college success to Galaxy playoff run

AJ DelaGarza (ISIPhotos.com)

Photo by ISIPhotos.com

By ADAM SERRANO

From college to the pros, AJ DeLaGarza and Omar Gonzalez have always enjoyed success together.

Despite many pundits discounting the Galaxy's chances without injured defender Gregg Berhalter, the pair teamed up well in the club's Semifinal series victory over the Seattle Sounders. They were part of a defensive effort that shut down a strong Sounders attack that entered the playoffs as the hottest in MLS.

With their chemistry on the field shining, the former Maryland Terrapins teammates stifled Blaise N'Kufo and Fredy Montero en route to the victory. With Berhalter doubtful to play in the return leg on Sunday, DeLaGarza expects to continue his role when the Galaxy host FC Dallas on Sunday.

"Dallas is a threat with a great attacking core, they defend well and with Hartman, they're good all around the park and we're going to need to be ready," DeLaGarza said. "They're a very athletic team with guys like Ferriera, Chavez and others who can get up and down the field and we'll need to contain them and counter when they do go forward."

Teammates at Maryland, they backstopped the Terrapins' run to the NCAA national championship in 2008, helping the team to 15 clean sheets in 26 games, including seven in eight games throughout the ACC and NCAA tournaments. The two were then drafted together by the Galaxy in 2009 to help rebuild what was the league's worse defense in 2008.

This season, DeLaGarza has played in a variety of different positions from right back to left back during the Galaxy's Supporters' Shield run. DeLaGarza became an option at center back after Berhalter went down with various injuries during the latter part of the season.

The DeLaGarza-Gonzalez partnership truly got an opportunity to shine in the final match of the season when the Galaxy defeated FC Dallas, 2-1. Although the pair had played together before, the victory over Dallas solidified DeLaGarza's position as Gonzalez's partner in central defense. In the series with the Sounders, DeLaGarza performed well shutting down Montero throughout the match. Now asked by Bruce Arena to rehash their success at Maryland by bringing the Galaxy to the MLS Cup for the second time in two years, the former college teammates are comfortable playing side-by-side.

"Things are going great between me and AJ, and I hope that the coaches keep us together," said Gonzalez. "It shows on the field because we're really comfortable with each other and not much has to be said because I know where he is at all times."

Perhaps the reason for the success is their contrasting defensive styles. Gonzalez is the 6-foot-5 physical centerback while DeLaGarza stands 5-foot-9 and relies mostly on his speed and tenacity on the field. With Berhalter healthy and ready to play, Arena has chosen to keep DeLaGarza in central defense for the duration of the playoffs.

Although DeLaGarza does not have the experience that Berhalter holds, the members of the back line are confident in Gonzalez and DeLaGarza's ability to repeat their prior success with the Galaxy. 

"AJ has stepped in every time that he's been asked to and done fantastic for us in the big games in the last little bit," said defender Todd Dunivant. They're in good form right now and they won a championship at Maryland and they're carrying that success over to us."

Hosting the Western Conference Final for the second time in consecutive years, the Galaxy are motivated to return to Final With the club's playing for the right to represent the West in Toronto, it is likely that FC Dallas will target DeLaGarza and force him to reprise the success that he had against the Sounders.

With his Galaxy only one match away from returning to the MLS Cup Final for the second year in a row, DeLaGarza is excited for his opportunity against the FC Dallas and to line up with Gonzalez. 

"It's a crazy because people doubted that I could play in the middle, saying that I would be a left back or a right back, but here it is my second year and I've played a handful of games and everything is going well so far," said DeLaGarza. "It's awesome to be with  [Gonzalez],who I won a national championship with in college and to have have that success here, it would be tremendous for the both us."

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7 Responses to DeLaGarza, Gonzalez look to bring college success to Galaxy playoff run

  1. Jeff says:

    Being at Maryland and watching these two dominate, I think thhat its smart Arena is keeping them together for the playoffs. Delagarza was always smart, and i think thats his strongest asset in making it in the Pros. The speed doesnt hurt either. GO Terps!

  2. KEEP says:

    What a great program they have going at Maryland, I spent my youth watching Arena coach at UVA with dozens of quality players going through his system. Modern Maryland reminds me a lot of those days and like big Bruce, I see a potential USMNT coaching position as well.

  3. David Beckham’s premiere league and champions league trophies; Landon Donovan’s multiple MVP and MLS trophies; De La Garza and Gonzalez’ college trophy; man, this team is swimming in silverware. ;) No way they can lose.

  4. adub says:

    maryland shmaryland LA Galaxy wont be able to contain MVP David Fererira and FCD’s defense is very underated with Jackson and John doing very well this season… everyone keeps underestimating dallas just wait

  5. froboy says:

    Fear the Turtle, terps making me proud, Original Crew Member, best fans and best team in the country

  6. Colin says:

    Replace “David Ferreira” with “Freddy Montero” and “FCD” with “Seattle” and you have last week’s Sounders fans’ comments.

  7. beachbum says:

    the guy’s really come on strong, stepped in and stepped up

    Go AJ!