GALAXY: Plugging another backline hole

A reunion in the middle for former Maryland teammates Omar Gonzalez and A.J. DeLaGarza is likely Saturday night when the Galaxy takes on the Portland Timbers at Home Depot Center.

That's the most appropriate response to Leonardo's season-ending knee injury in last week's victory at Chicago. Gonzalez and DeLaGarza, third-year pros who won a national championship with the Terrapins, were paired quite effectively at the end of the season and through the playoffs following Gregg Berhalter's mysterious illness last year, and it was somewhat surprising they haven't seen time together this year with Berhalter sidelined with a knee injury.

And it's not certain head coach Bruce Arena will team them against the expansion Timbers and their vibrant attack led by Kenny Cooper and Jorge Perlaza and perhaps newcomer Diego Chara.

Sean Franklin, MLS's Rookie of the Year in 2008 while playing at center back, approached Arena after Leonardo's injury and volunteered to step into the middle. He's played at right back and right midfielder this season.

“Right now, it would either be Franklin or DeLaGarza,” Arena said Thursday. What determines who is “a variety of things, maybe opponent, form, all kinds of things. But A.J.'s got the most experience playing in there.”

DeLaGarza's versatility -- he's at home in any of the four backline spots -- has made him most valuable but hindered his finding a permanent home in the lineup. He impressed U.S. national team coach Bob Bradley with his play for the Galaxy last season and received a call-up for January's camp.

Leonardo, 22, was hurt near the finish of Sunday's 2-1 victory when he landed awkwardly during a challenge with Fire forward Dominic Oduro. He tore the anterior cruciate and lateral collateral ligaments in his right knee and is slated to undergo the first of two surgeries next week.

“Everyone's different, but I think our planning is he's certainly not going to play this year,” Arena said. “[The injury] just happened. You could see that play 100 times and there wouldn't be an injury. These kinds of injuries, sometimes, you know, you can't figure out how they happened.”

WORTH NOTING: Captain Landon Donovan, who missed the three-game trip east with a bruised knee, is expected to return to the lineup, and midfielders David Beckham, Juninho and Jovan Kirovski are back from suspension. Beckham, whose league-worst fifth yellow card cost him a game, would serve another suspension with three more cautions. … Three of the seven goals L.A. has surrendered have come in the first 10 minutes, but the two conceded since the Real Salt Lake loss have come in the closing minutes, one (Charlie Davies') on a phantom penalty kick. … Arena said it was possible the Galaxy would look to bring in another defender if Berhalter isn't able to return soon, but former UCLA standout Sean Alvarado also could step up and take a more prominent role.

INJURY LIST: According to the Galaxy, Leonardo and Berhalter are joined by forward Adam Cristman (knee surgery) on the sidelines, and Donovan and rookie midfielder Hector Jimenez (wrist surgery) are questionable.



Head coach

  • Scotsman John Spencer, a forward for 15 years in Britain, Hong Kong and MLS, takes on his first head-coaching job after serving as Dominic Kinnear's top assistant with the Houston Dynamo for 4½ seasons. The Rangers FC product toiled for Chelsea and Everton (and others) in England and Scotland, then wrapped up his playing career with four fine seasons (and two MLS Best XI awards) with the Colorado Rapids.

Three key players

  • Colombian forward Perlaza's lengthy paperwork hassle to join the Timbers was worth it -- he's a tremendously skilled attacker who netted two goals in their rousing victory over Chicago in their home opener.

  • Cooper, whose dad was an NASL goalkeeper, has the stature to be a target forward, but he prefers to run at defenses and is pretty good at it. He tallied twice for the Timbers after scoring 25 goals in 45 games with FC Dallas in 2008-09 before joining 1860 Munich.

  • Burgeoning Ghanaian national-teamer Kalif Alhassan has been a sparkplug in midfield for the Timbers, exhibiting a keen attacking sense and strong vision.

Current form/prospects

  • The Timbers are certainly a side in the making, and it's going to take some time for them to find and project an identity. They're coming off two emotional victories at home, where they enjoy the most intense fan support in MLS. They raced to 3-0 leads over Chicago and FC Dallas, then held on as their advantages were trimmed to one goal. The addition of Colombian playmaker Chara, signed 10 days ago as a Designated Player, and top draft pick Darlington Nagbe's return to health will advance the cause.

Local connections

  • Trevor James left Arena's Galaxy staff to join Spencer's. … Winger Sal Zizzo played at UCLA and was with Chivas USA last season after returning home from Europe. ... Rookie forward Spencer Thompson starred at UC Irvine. … Midfielder Rodrigo Lopez is from Harbor City, began his pro career with Chivas USA in 2005-07 and played two seasons with Ventura County Fusion in the USL Pro Development League.


  • Forwards Bright Dike (ruptured Achilles) and Brian Umony (sprained knee) are out, goalkeeper Adin Brown (hamstring strain) is doubtful, and midfielder Peter Lowry (strained knee) and defender David Horst (sprained ankle) are questionable. Goalkeeper Troy Perkins (sprained knee) was removed from the injury list Friday.


At Home Depot Center (Carson), 8 p.m.

TV: Fox Soccer Channel

Radio: ESPN Deportes (KWKW/1330, Spanish)

Referee: Ramon Hernandez

Reserve League: Sunday, noon, Home Depot Center Track and Field Stadium