Photo by ISIPhotos.com
By KAYLA KNAPP
It took the LA Galaxy until their 25th game of the season before coach Bruce Arena was able to start his MLS Cup-winning back four, but you wouldn't have guessed that by their performance in Sunday night's SuperClasico.
Todd Dunivant, AJ DeLaGarza, Omar Gonzalez and Sean Franklin played together for the first time in the 2012 season in the Galaxy's 4-0 trouncing of Chivas USA. Not only was it a big win for the team, it was an important step forward for a defense that has struggled this year.
"We’re comfortable, us four back there, and Josh included," Franklin said after the match. "It was good to not just win tonight, but get a shutout."
Unlike last season, in which LA only allowed 28 goals and had an impressive 16 shutouts, 2012 has been a completely different story. With defensive leader Omar Gonzalez sidelined by a torn ACL for the first half of the seaosn, the Galaxy defense has been anything but consistent, allowing 39 goals already this year and only securing five shutouts.
But in their first start together this season, the first-choice Galaxy defense didn't need much time to find a rhythm again.
"There was just a familiar feeling out there in general," Dunivant said. "I thought our movement was good. We caught them offside several, several times; probably the most we had all year. That’s a testament to our line and our movement together."
The most noticeable difference was the return of Gonzalez and DeLaGarza in the center of the defense. The two former University of Maryland players were a huge part in LA's Championship run in 2011, and proved last night why they should be playing alongside each other for the rest of the season.
"It was just back to normal," Gonzalez said. "We didn’t have to talk too much, it was nice. We were just in the right positions the whole game, and all I had to do was say [DeLaGarza's] name once and he knew where to be, and he would do the same to me."
The defense's communication was key in keeping Chivas USA off the scoreboard, something that has been an obvious weakness for LA up until this point. Injuries made it impossible to have any kind of defensive consistency. When you're playing with a different combination of teammates each week, it's difficult to gel as a unit.
On Sunday night, there was an obvious boost in energy created by the return of a backline that was the definition of consistent last season.
"It felt like old times. I think all the guys were really excited going into the game and after the game we felt really good about our performance," Dunivant said. "We were backing each other up. If one guy got beat, the other guy was there to cover for him. I thought that was the biggest difference."
Not only is it important to have a solid defense to keep their opponent from scoring, it makes a massive difference on the other end of the field as well. When the defenders do their job, the forwards and midfielders can focus on pushing forward in the attack.
"We’re all really excited to get those four back on the field," Galaxy captain Landon Donovan said. "Those four are really comfortable together, they’re confident, they move well, they communicate well and they make our job really easy, so it’s nice to have them together."
With Donovan spending less time helping out the defense, and more energy on the offensive end, he gets results. Donovan assisted all four of the Galaxy's goals on Sunday night, tying the MLS single-game record, and moving into fourth all-time with 105 assists.
If LA's back four stay healthy for the rest of the season, and Donovan and Robbie Keane continue to click on the front line, there is no reason the reigning MLS Cup Champions can't repeat in 2012.