CARSON -- The Galaxy have two pressing questions as they wrap up their third week of preseason camp: the old one (who's going to step into Omar Gonzalez's shoes?) and the new one (who's going to start in midfield?).
The midfield considerations will work themselves out once Juninho has arrived from Brazil, which apparently will be sometime next week. There's still a month to figure it out, and all of the options -- with David Beckham, Marcelo Sarvas and Juninho likely rotating through two central spots -- are good ones.
It's a tougher call at the back, where rookie Tommy Meyer has been getting the minutes opposite A.J. DeLaGarza with the first team and is showing that he belongs at this level. He gave his best of three preseason-match performances in Friday's 1-0 loss to the Houston Dynamo on L.A.'s Home Depot Center training field and, at the least, appears to be in the mix to fill the giant, empty hole left when Gonzalez suffered the torn ACL a little more than a month ago.
Or perhaps not. The company that owns half of Roman Torres' contract with Colombia's Atletico Nacional told Panamanian daily Critica that the Galaxy had ended discussions to acquire the Panamanian defender because they had sorted out their issues at the back.
That could mean the Galaxy has targeted a different central defender from aboard (or perhaps merely eliminated Torres from its list), or, after taking on Edson Buddle's and Juninho's salaries in the past 10 days, must sit tight with what they have.
One of the central spots falls to DeLaGarza, Gonzalez's primary partner last year. Candidates to join him in the starting XI, among those on the roster, are Meyer, Chivas USA castoff Andrew Boyens and Brazilian Leonardo, who is still rehabbing torn knee ligaments from last year and won't be back until April earliest.
Boyens has an edge in experience, with New Zealand's national team and with the Goats, New York and Toronto FC, but Meyer's upside appears far higher.
“He's been consistent, and that's what you like to see ...,” said DeLaGarza, a versatile defender whose best position is right back. “He's a young player, he's composed on the ball. You like that as a young player. He's doing well right now. Can't complain.”
Meyer, 21, taken by the Galaxy in the first round of last month's SuperDraft out of Indiana, has made mistakes here and there -- he was turned around by an attacker, leading to a goal, in his debut a week ago against the L.A. Blues -- but has been good not to make the same errors. He's big (6 feet 3), decent with the ball at his feet and has got a lot of room to grow. He seems to be growing.
“The games are definitely where you don't want to make mistakes,” he said after the first-half unit kept a clean sheet. “I've made a couple, but you learn from those as soon as it happens, and the coaches talk to you about it afterwards, and you try not to make the same mistake again. But you don't play scared, you just try to play confident.”
DeLaGarza has become something of a mentor. Without Gonzalez, MLS's Defender of the Year, the fourth-year veteran from Maryland has become more vocal in the back, more of a director on the field. He's feeding information for Meyer to digest, but he recognizes he has a lot of room to grow, too.
“I was never really coached [as a center back],” DeLaGarza said. “Gregg [Berhalter, now coaching in Sweden] was here, and he was kind of focused on Omar, and I was always being moved around, so I wasn't in one set position. So I guess I'm still learning the center-back position as well.
“Whatever I can learn from what [former Galaxy and U.S. national team defender] Tony Sanneh taught me or Omar or Gregg, and that kind of stuff, I guess I'm paying it forward.”
Meyer, like all young players, says the speed of the game is the biggest difference between where he's been and where he is now. “Probably the different thing for me is I've got to concentrate the whole time, not taking any breaks, and just playing confident,” he said. “You have to be confident at this level. Everyone else on the field is a good player, so you have to believe in your abilities.”
MLS CUP REMATCH: This was the first meeting between the Galaxy and Dynamo since L.A.'s victory not quite three months ago in the MLS Cup title game. How much was that in Houston's thoughts? “Not at all,” head coach Dominic Kinnear said.
Nor on Bruce Arena's -- the Galaxy coach laughed when asked about it.
“Didn't even think about it until you mentioned it,” he said. “I don't think anyone thought about the MLS Cup today. C'mon, we're just having a practice game.”
It was “a little bit” on DeLaGarza's mind.
“Obviously, we're missing some players, they were missing some players,” he said, “but I thought about it beforehand that they wanted to come out and try to prove something.”
The game was entertaining, with good chances for both sides -- and the first-half goalkeepers, the Galaxy's Josh Saunders and Houston's Tally Hall, making several diving saves. The best: Hall leaping to parry a 28-yard Beckham free kick headed for the upper-left corner and Saunders knocking aside a long-range blast from Adam Moffat.
Buddle came close to his first goal of the preseason, too, heading just wide from Beckham's service.
Nathan Sturgis, who started his pro career with the Galaxy, scored the goal with a looping header in the 68th minute from a Josue Soto cross after a corner kick was knocked wide.
WORTH NOTING: Supplemental draft pick Rafael Garcia, from Cal State Northridge, saw his first game action, playing in central midfield the second half -- and delivering a 30-yard shot that Hall tipped over the crossbar. The former Canoga Park High School star missed most of last week while ill and is the last uninjured player in camp to get into a game. ... Arena on preseason games: “I didn't even know who we're playing until yesterday. I know we have these games scheduled, I just never kind of think about who the next team is we're playing.” He did not know, off the top of his head, that the Galaxy's opponent Tuesday is Montreal and Thursday is Chivas USA. ... Might the Galaxy's best midfield have Sarvas and Juninho in the middle and Beckham and Landon Donovan on the flanks? ... Among those on hand for games played simultaneously on the two University Fields (Montreal-Portland over the fence) were, again, expected No. 1 NFL draft pick Andrew Luck, who is preparing for the combine at Athletes Performance's HDC facilities (and whose dad is a former Dynamo president/GM), and four former players with Galaxy experience: Jorge Campos, Alexi Lalas, Kyle Martino and Ante Razov. ... Aging Spanish star Guti could have joined the Galaxy had Beckham not re-signed, his agent told Goal.com.
Home Depot Center University Field 1 (Carson)
Galaxy 0, Houston Dynamo 1
H -- Nate Sturgis (Josue Soto) 68
Galaxy: Josh Saunders (Bill Gaudette, 46); Bryan Jordan (Dustin McCarty, 46), Tommy Meyer (Andrew Boyens, 46), A.J. DeLaGarza (Bryan Gaul, 46), Todd Dunivant (J.T. Murray, 46); Hector Jimenez (Stephen Posa, 46), Marcelo Sarvas (Michael Stephens, 46), David Beckham (Rafael Garcia, 46), Paolo Cardozo (Ryan Thomas, 46); Pat Noonan (Jack McBean, 46), Edson Buddle (Adam Cristman, 46).
Houston Dynamo: Tally Hall; Andre Hainault (Kofi Sarkodie, 46), Geoff Cameron (Bobby Boswell, 46), Jermaine Taylor (Nathan Sturgis, 46), Corey Ashe (Oscar Recio, 46); Adam Moffat (Philip Aseweh, 46); Brian Ownby (Warren Creavalle, 46), Je-Vaughn Watson (Josue Soto, 46), Colin Clark (Eder Arreola, 46); Darryl Roberts (Chris Rolfe, 46; Cam Weaver, 73), Will Bruin (Macoumba Kandji, 46).
Yellow card: Jimenez 33. Red card: Rolfe 72.
Referee: Alex Mariscal. Att.: c. 60.
Record: 1-2-0; vs. MLS: 0-2-0
Feb. 3 vs. L.A. Blues (USL Pro): W, 7-2 (Sarvas pen. 12, Dunivant 29, Cristman 36, 45, Cardozo 42, McBean 63, Nakazawa pen. 85)
Feb. 7 vs. Portland: L 1-4 (Keat 80)
Feb. 10 vs. Houston: L 0-1
Feb. 14 vs. Montreal at Home Depot Center
Feb. 16 vs. Chivas USA at Home Depot Center
Feb. 22 vs. New England at Tucson, Ariz.
Feb. 25 vs. Real Salt Lake at Tucson, Ariz.
Feb. 29 vs. New York at Tucson, Ariz.
March 3 Desert Diamond Cup final/third-place game at Tucson, Ariz.