MLS Cup: Unsung DeLaGarza a key part of the Galaxy’s defensive domination

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photo by ISIphotos.com

By FRANCO PANIZO

CARSON, Calif. – When pundits and fans talk about the Los Angeles Galaxy's success this season, the names most often mentioned are David Beckham, Landon Donovan, Robbie Keane and Omar Gonzalez.

One player whose name is not mentioned as frequently but probably should be is A.J. DeLaGarza.

In his third season out of Maryland, DeLaGarza has proven to be an important cog for the Galaxy, playing all across the back line on a defense that allowed the fewest goals in the league during the regular season. 

"He's been real good, very versatile. He's played probably every position in the back line," said Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena. "He's played a little midfield I think in a few games as well. He's just been a very good player for us for three years."

It is that versatility that saw DeLaGarza start in a career-high 30 games this year, and is part of the reason why Los Angeles is playing for an MLS Cup at the Home Depot Center on Sunday against the Houston Dynamo.

Because of his 5-foot-9 stature and his solid but unspectacular style of play, DeLaGarza is easy to overlook. His contributions, however, go beyond what he does on the field.

"That definitely is an advantage for me just because we know each other so well," said Galaxy defender Omar Gonzalez of his familiarity with DeLaGarza (the two played together at the University of Maryland before being drafted by the Galaxy in 2009). "I'm able to play more free and just not having to worry about where he's at on the field because I know he's on the same page as me."

DeLaGarza played just over half an hour the last time the Galaxy played in an MLS Cup, a penalty kick shootout loss to Real Salt Lake in 2009. Barring injury or any unforeseen circumstances, he'll likely go the distance on Sunday, just as he has in each of the Galaxy's first three playoff games.

Should that be the case, DeLaGarza will see plenty of battles against Calen Carr and Brian Ching. While it seems more likely that he'll be matched up with Carr due to the Dynamo forward's pace, DeLaGarza is also prepared to go up against the bruising Ching.

"Just getting a body on him," said DeLaGarza of his approach to marking Ching. "When balls are getting crossed in, just get a body on him, knock him off balance. Don't let him get a clean header, because he's clearly one of the best finishers in this league, especially with his head."

No matter who he faces off against, DeLaGarza is ready for the challenge and he's eager to add an MLS championship to a young career that already includes an NCAA title and MLS Supporters Shield.

"I said it yesterday, this is probably the biggest game of my soccer career," said DeLaGarza. "I've played in some big games, some NCAA championships, but this is that next step above that and it's exciting and I'm looking forward to it."

If Los Angeles wins the MLS Cup on Sunday, it is unlikely that DeLaGarza will get much of the limelight, not when he plays on a team that includes internationally-known players such as Beckham, Keane and Donovan.

That's okay though, because DeLaGarza is quietly enjoying the best season of his young career on a Galaxy team that he is a vital part of.

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13 Responses to MLS Cup: Unsung DeLaGarza a key part of the Galaxy’s defensive domination

  1. Steve Inman says:

    Just take the Galaxy’s back line and move them over to the USMNT… Why not, they have quality and experience playing together, a natural left footer, and the outside backs aren’t afraid of getting into the attack

  2. Boo says:

    Big ups to charles county. However, let’s be clear. Thomas Stone > Lackey.

  3. fischy says:

    Speaking of MLS history, DC United and the LA Galaxy — I was looking at WIkipedia for the history of the MLS Cups. You’d think the MLS site would have the info, but it doesn’t. Clicked the links and noticed that the MLS Cup ’96 page was deficient. It didn’t list any of the Galaxy players. Only the Coach, Osiander.

    I decided to try and fix this. Took a lot of research. After much searching, I’ve decided there is no contemporaneous webpage with all the info. I only found one site online (something called “enotes”) that lists the lineups, but without jersey numbers. For some reason it has the times for DC United’s substitutions, but not the Galaxy’s. Because the WIki page lists DC United’s roster numbers, I had to go to another, very cool site that had a timeline for the Galaxy roster jersey numbers.I also think the enotes site was a bit off, because it seems to list Salcedo as a midfielder and subbed out for Onalfo. I’m assuming they used 4 defenders the whole game, so I put Salcedo on the back line, in the center. If anyone thinks they have a record, with the substitution times, or can find it online, feel free to add that info. If you know for sure who played where (left to right, back to front, etc,) feel free to edit the page. Heck, maybe someone’s got the game recorded. It would be cool to put the complete record online somewhere.

  4. fischy says:

    Also, if you know who the LA captain was (Cienfuegos? Campos?), and you can figure out where the “CC” goes, please add. Look at the DC United text for the code after Harkes’ name and just copy that.

  5. fischy says:

    Oops. That should be just a “C”, not “CC”.

  6. montana matt says:

    DelaGarza probably deserves a call up in January. It seems like Klinsy would prefer to play w at least one quick, technical CB and DeLaGarza is definitely better than Orozco or Ream in that role.

  7. Brian says:

    I like AJ but there are better choices for a quick technical CB, like Geoff Cameron.

  8. Hush says:

    AJ is NOT better or quicker than Fiscal… AJ does deserve a call up though.

  9. Rob218 says:

    Knew AJ at Maryland. Really enjoying the success that he and the other members of the 2008 NCAA Championship team are experiencing. If AJ, Omar, and Zusi are called in for the January camp, it would be awesome!

  10. Max says:

    +1…Cohesion is critical to a strong backline.

  11. ATL says:

    He is more important to his team than Fiscal ever was for Philly.

  12. JM says:

    De La Garza is playing center half out of necessity. The only other option is Dasan Robinson. I bet Bruce spends his cap room on a new starting center half, and AJ becomes the first option off the bench for all four positions in 2012 – which was the plan for 2011 before Leonardo and Berhalter broke down.

    Players out: Juninho ($100k, loan ends), Leonardo ($100k, loan ends), Berhalter ($96k, retires), Hejduk ($96k, out-of-contract), Kirovski ($84k, out-of-contract).

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