GALAXY: Snubbed Dunivant looks ahead
CARSON -- Todd Dunivant should have been in Panama on Wednesday, getting a look at left back with the U.S. national team. Instead he was at Home Depot Center, taking part in the first stages of the Galaxy's preparations for the coming season.
The veteran defender is coming off an MLS Best XI campaign that figured to vault him into U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann's first January camp -- especially considering the Americans' slim pickings on the left -- but the call never came.
Dunivant, who has been passed over so many times, took the news with a sense of resignation and sharpened his focus for the task at hand: helping the Galaxy build on its phenomenal success last season while bolstering a backline that has lost its leader.
The Galaxy is what really matters, Dunivant knows, but it still would have been nice to spend the past couple of weeks showing off for Klinsmann and his staff.
“That stuff's always a head-scratcher sometimes, but it's out of my control,” Dunivant, 31, said as the Galaxy opened their preseason camp this week. “And I've got to just to what I can do with the Galaxy, and if it's enough to get me a look, then it is. This time around it wasn't, but I'm gonna keep doing my thing here.
“Bruce [Arena] demands a lot out of us, and if we're doing well for him, he demands a national-team level out of us. And I think you saw last year, you saw a lot of guys step up their games and play at that kind of a level. And that's what Bruce demands. I mean, he was the national team coach for eight years.”
Dunivant certainly met the demands last year. An elegant attacking left back who has sharpened his defensive skills remarkably over the years, he was L.A.'s most consistent performer -- and he went the distance in a team-best 32 league games, all four playoff matches, all six CONCACAF Champions League games and one of the U.S. Open Cup matches. He also appeared in all six friendlies.
“Todd has been very good ... for the most part rock solid,” Arena said during the playoffs last year. “This is possibly Todd's best year in the league. [It's about] experience, just understanding the areas he's had to be a little bit better in and being more consistent. I think he's accomplished that.”
Klinsmann's snub has provided some benefits, allowing Dunivant more offseason time to rest before what could be the longest season the Galaxy has ever played. The first game that counts is March 7, a Champions League quarterfinal first leg at Toronto FC. They hope to play, preferably at home again, in the MLS Cup final on Dec. 1. And if in April they win the Champions League title, they'll be in Morocco for he Dec. 11-21 FIFA Club World Cup.
The task is made more difficult by the knee injury sidelining center back Omar Gonzalez, the MLS Defender of the Year who on Jan. 5 tore his left anterior cruciate ligament at the start of a short-term loan deal to German club FC Nuremberg. The 6-foot-5 Texan could be out until Major League Soccer's playoffs begin in November, perhaps longer, and Arena's existing options aren't as attractive as is Gonzalez.
Dunivant knows it won't be easy but cautions against the doomsayers.
“Losing Omar's a big loss, obviously, so we'll have to figure out a way to replace him,” Dunivant said. “We've won games without him before, not for this kind of extended period, but this team has never made excuses when we've been without players and guys have filled in and the team has stepped up, and it's going to have to be the same this year. ... Everyone's go to step up. Everyone's got to do their role. You can't go too far outside your own position, your own role, but if everybody does their job, we'll have someone capable in there, without a doubt.”
FITNESS WEEK: The first week of Galaxy practice is all about fitness, of course, and so running is the primary activity. Next week they'll get to playing, right? Nice guess.
“I think fitness is the whole preseason,” Arena said. “I think playing is as you get closer to the first game. ... We're not going to be too concerned with the preseason practice games, in terms of winning or losing, but just getting people in [to look at them]. We have certain holes we have to solidify, so that will be part of the preseason strategy.”
The most pressing holes? What do you think?
“Obviously, the center-back position and getting everything else a little bit better ...,” he said. “By our first game, we should be ready to go.”
WORTH NOTING: Defender A.J. DeLaGarza played 90 minutes again as the U.S. beat Panama, 1-0, Wednesday night in Panama City. He and midfielder Michael Stephens and goalkeeper Brian Perk, who have been in camp with the under-23 national team, will join Galaxy preps in the next day or two. ... American soccer's biggest showdown since MLS Cup is Friday's F.A. Cup fourth-rounder pitting Everton (with Galaxy captain Landon Donovan) against Fulham (with Clint Dempsey). Fox Soccer Channel will show it at noon. ... Aston Villa, with Robbie Keane, plays Sunday at Arsenal in its fourth-round clash. FSC and Fox Deportes will televise at 8 a.m. ... Re-entry draft pick Chris Leitch is set to announce his retirement to become director of San Jose's academy, a decision Arena shared with reporters last week.
ELSEWHERE: In other MLS news ...
- Among the bidders to purchase the Dodgers is Colorado Rapids owner Stan Kroenke, who also is in control of Arsenal and teams in the NFL (St. Louis Rams), NBA (Denver Nuggets) and NHL (Colorado Avalanche).
- Gary Smith, who guided the Colorado Rapids to the 2010 MLS Cup title and was dismissed in December after a power struggle, has been hired as manager of English third-tier club Stevenage FC, located about 30 miles north of central London.
- Chicago signed Zimbabwean forward Kheli Dube, a former U.S. college standout selected in the re-entry draft from New England, for which he played four seasons. The Fire also parted company with midfielder Mike Banner.
- D.C. United has signed 6-foot-4 Argentine defender Emiliano Dudar, 30, on a free transfer from Swiss club Young Boys.
- New York signed 24-year-old American goalkeeper Jeremy Vuolo from Finnish clhb AC Oulu. He joins draft pick Ryan Meara as the only netminders on the roster after the departure of German starter Frank Rost.