Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Los Angeles Soccer [Print without images]

Friday, May 4, 2012
GALAXY: Saunders has team's support

By Scott French

Josh Saunders
Josh Saunders still has the support of his Galaxy teammates as he deals with a personal issue.

CARSON -- The Galaxy say they are not letting Josh Saunders' absence to deal with a “personal matter” become a distraction, but everyone has the big goalkeeper on their minds.

Saunders, 31, has not been available for the Galaxy's last two matches and won't be available for Saturday's clash at Home Depot Center against the New York Red Bulls (ESPN and ESPN Deportes, 5 p.m.), with a report claiming he has entered Major League Soccer's substance abuse treatment program.

Neither the Galaxy nor MLS have confirmed the report, and head coach Bruce Arena on Friday said that “the comments we've had on Josh are our comments. We respect you leaving it at that.”

His teammates are looking to find their stride without Saunders -- veteran Bill Gaudette gave fine performances in last Saturday's 1-1 draw with FC Dallas at HDC and Wednesday's 2-0 defeat at Seattle -- but are keeping him in their thoughts.

“As much as it hurts not having Josh in the goal, it's a guy we all love and know well,” captain Landon Donovan said. “I've known Josh a long time. For me the soccer part is absolutely second. We just want to make sure that he's OK and that he's going to be able to get his life back, forget about the soccer part.”

If Saunders is, indeed, in rehab, it's not because he tested positive for a banned substance. Although the league's drug-testers were at Home Depot Center last week to administer tests to Chivas USA players, Galaxy union representative Todd Dunivant said the Galaxy players were tested Friday, a week after the goalkeeper left the team.

A source within the league said that it was understood Saunders was not arrested, but the source would not confirm nor deny that Saunders was in a rehab facility. Saunders was arrested for a DUI in Oregon in 2004.

The league will not comment on reports and has instructed the Galaxy to do likewise, in great part so players seeking help with substance-abuse problems can do so without publicity. New England captain Shalrie Joseph was away for six weeks dealing with “personal matters” in 2010. Neither MLS nor the Revolution commented on his absence, but Joseph told the Boston Herald upon his return that he had “got caught and they sent me to drug rehab” for marijuana use.

A player found to have used a performance-enhancing substance would be identified, suspended and fined by the league.

Arena said the situation would not impact the Galaxy.

“Josh's matters are between Josh and his family,” Arena said. “We've dealt with it already as a team, and we're just moving forward.”

Said David Beckham: “Obviously, we want Josh back as soon as possible. Because not only is he a great goalkeeper, but a great guy as well. It's not a distraction, because things happen in teams.”

Gaudette, 30, has “been around a long time and knows how to step into situations, and he's stepped up big,” Dunivant said. “He's come in and really played two outstanding games on short notice.”

With Brian Perk still returning to form following sports-hernia surgery, the Galaxy have kept Portland-based MLS pool goalkeeper Brian Rowe -- a UCLA All-American last fall drafted in January by Chivas USA -- on its roster for Saturday's game.