CARSON -- The Galaxy's backline travails finally prodded Bruce Arena to make a move, but Tuesday's trade to acquire Brazilian veteran David Junior Lopes from Chivas USA isn't the blockbuster fans were hoping for.
After trolling Europe and South America following Omar Gonzalez's knee injury in January -- and after (we might expect) combing for viable options within Major League Soccer -- the Galaxy has settled, it appears, for a rookie and two rejects from down the hall.
If that's harsh, it's also true. Andrew Boyens' option was declined in December by Chivas, and his pickup in the re-entry process -- based on salary as much as anything -- was about adding depth after Gregg Berhalter's retirement and with Leonardo rehabbing a knee injury that will keep him out until at least the end of April. Lopes, who joined the Goats last August after stints in Croatia, Russia, Spain and Romania, had slipped to fourth or fifth on Chivas' depth chart at center back and wasn't on the game-day roster the past three matches.
They're the two most experienced options for the Gonzalez slot, but neither can step into the big Texan's shoes. Neither can Tommy Meyer, selected out of Indiana University with the final pick in the first round of January's MLS SuperDraft -- he has the most upside but the greatest learning curve.
Gonzalez's target date to return is early September, although he hopes to be back earlier, perhaps as soon as July. Until then, the Galaxy (1-3-0 in MLS action, 1-4-1 in all competitive matches) must make do -- and come through.
Arena called Lopes, acquired in exchange for Argentine midfielder Paolo Cardozo, “a big, strong center back” with “good athletic ability” who will provide “a little bit more physicality in that position that we haven't had.” All of that is so, and it's what could make the 29-year-old defender a valuable addition, even if he can't provide the kind of mastery of the position that has brought Gonzalez ample reward: MLS Defender of the Year last season, MLS Rookie of the Year in 2009, Best XI selections in 2010 and 2011.
Lopes is a specimen unlike any the Galaxy have at hand -- 6 feet 3, solidly built, with a physical side to his game that only Gonzalez can exceed. He's outstanding when he's on his game, but his decision-making isn't crisp and he too often commits dumb fouls.
He was ahead of Boyens in the pecking order at Chivas -- Lopes started seven of the Goats' final 11 matches after arriving from Romania's Universitatea Craiova; Boyens, who at 6-4 is taller than Lopes but has not nearly the bulk, saw 45 minutes across 19 games before an injury to Heath Pearce provided starts in the final four games.
Boyens and Meyer have split time next to A.J. DeLaGarza, Gonzalez's usual partner, with less that satisfactory results, although the rookie fared fairly well in last weekend's loss at Sporting Kansas City. One of them figures to get the start Saturday night against Portland at Home Depot Center, but Lopes' physical dimensions probably win out going forward. At least until Leonardo has recovered his form.
Asked whether Lopes was brought in to start or as an option, along with Boyens and Meyer, Arena replied: “I think what we need to do is see how he fits in in the short term with the team. He has to gt to know us, we have to get to know him, then we got to make a decision as to what kind of role he plays.”
Arena said he was “open to what kind of role he's going to play.”
Was the trade a statement on Boyens' and Meyer's performances?
“It doesn't say anything,” Arena said. “It's a move we're making to get our team stronger.”
The Galaxy have so much midfield depth and talent that it could afford to move the skillful Cardozo, who ought to fit more snugly into Chivas' system and could provide his new club with attacking dimensions pivotal to its progression under second-year coach Robin Fraser, the former Galaxy star.
Lopes might not be the answer L.A. is looking for, but given how badly Gonzalez is missed, it's a deal worth making. Ultimately, only Gonzalez's return will suffice.
WORTH NOTING: There might be a decent center back available soon. Former Chicago Fire standout Bakary Soumare, 26, who left MLS in 2009 for French club Bologne, wants to return to the league as early as this summer, according to Fox Soccer. The Malian-born Soumare, who is on loan to German second-division side Karlsruhe, would be available via the allocation process. The Galaxy is 18th in the allocation order and would have to trade up to likely the top spot, which is held by Vancouver. … David Beckham was back in training after he and his family spent Easter with celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay and his family in Napa. “[He's] all right,” Arena said. “Slowly getting him back, see how he feels over the next couple of days, then make a decision” on whether he'll play against Portland. … Arena on Edson Buddle's performance this season: “It's been just OK. We know there's a lot more to Edson than we've seen so far. He'll be all right.” … Goalkeeper Josh Saunders, who made a few big saves to sort of keep the Galaxy in the game against Kansas City, was clearly L.A.'s Man of the Match last game. “That's what we need: maybe two saves a game to keep us in games until we start winning,” DeLaGarza said. … Berhalter, who last year doubled as assistant coach and center back, was a winner in his first official game as head coach of Sweden's Hammarby IF. The Bajen beat visiting Halmstads BK, 1-0, in an opener in the second-tier Superettan.