Ever since Saturday's miraculous draw against the San Jose Earthquakes with Mike Magee in goal for more than a half (it wasn't really that miraculous considering it was the Smurfs), there has been plenty of talk about Magee's ability to play anywhere and everywhere. Lost in the Magee hype though was Tuesday's U.S. Open Cup match in which A.J. DeLaGarza played left back. That may not seem like much, but what it means is that before the end of June DeLaGarza has played all four positions along the backline.
How many guys can say they've played all of the spots along the backline? Very few. It may not seem like much to move along the back, but it's not so easy. Dealing with strong center forwards in the middle, knowing when to step to midfielders running from deep and keeping that shape in the center with your centerback partner under the instruction of your goalkeeper is one thing. Running with wingers, sliding inside to cover the backside, getting forward into the attack and playing in crosses is a whole other thing. Doing it on both sides of the field, where the angles, footwork and quick hips are very different is remarkable. DeLaGarza has done it all this season.
Because of his versatility, it is huge that the Galaxy recently inked him to a new contract, but he's not just a matter of playing all positions. It's a matter of playing them all well and DeLaGarza has done that. Early on in the season he was Mr. Utility, plugging in holes along the backline whenever someone went down, but with the season-ending injury to Leonardo, he got his shot in the center of the defense.
He's paired brilliantly with Omar Gonzalez to keep the Galaxy third in MLS in goals allowed and have played three and four more matches than the teams above them. He is the little man to Gonzalez's big. We know about Gonzo's prowess in the air, but we also know that he struggles at times to turn and run. That is where DeLaGarza can cover for him. He has pace and reads the game well, knowing when to drop and help Gonzalez over the top.
On the right, A.J. is more of a defender than someone like Sean Franklin, who loves to get forward, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. It frees Juninho to get forward more without having to worry about defend the vacated fullback position when DeLaGarza gets forward. He played on the left against the Blues and had no problem closing down defenders, even running with them all the way to the endline and making a couple crucial tackles.
Ever since DeLaGarza was at Maryland and eying a professional career, people have talked about what he can't do. He can't get into the attack enough as a fullback. He's too small to play in the center. On and on the criticisms have gone, but all he's done is prove that not only can he cut it in the pros, he can get it anywhere along the backline. It's a good thing he's going to be in a Galaxy jersey for a little while longer. Now only if we can get him to grow out his hair again and we might have this blog's first crush.