Carson, CA – The Los Angeles Galaxy did not get the result they set out to get in the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League as they were held to a scoreless draw by Santos Laguna. Fortunately for Bruce Arena, there were plenty of positives to take from the first competitive match of the season which included a revamped Starting XI and debuts for five new players and a new-look backline.
Among the five debutants was 31-year-old midfielder, Nigel De Jong. De Jong, a native from Holland, is a defensive minded midfielder who hardly put a foot wrong in his 90 minutes on the StubHub Center pitch. The Amsterdam-born veteran, who grew up in the famed Ajax academy and has played for a couple of the world’s biggest clubs, looked as if he had been playing for the Galaxy for much longer than a couple of weeks.
Perhaps his biggest contribution came early on in the second stanza. Santos Laguna were attacking up the right side of the pitch through Nestor Calderon. He cut back towards the middle but took a heavy touch and left enough space where De Jong timed his tackle perfectly to thwart the threat for the time being.
His lone attempt on the offensive side occurred in the first half when the Liga MX side failed to clear their lines completely off of a corner kick. A scuffed clearance was met on the volley by De Jong. Unfortunately, his attempt was absolutely horrendous as it started to curl away from the goal from the moment his foot connected with the ball.
The former AC Milan player is drilled in his defensive responsibilities: dropping back as a third center back when needed, man-marking a major threat on the opposition, or clogging up space to deny the opposing team passing lanes. If you watched him closely enough, on more than one occasion he would move just a few steps in any direction and break up passes.
Last season, both midfielders liked to join the attack. This resulted in space opening up between the midfielders and defenders that the other teams exploited on a regular basis. With Nigel De Jong staying back more times than not, that open space will be closed and teams will have to find a new way past the Galaxy defense.
De Jong’s mindset on the pitch could also help Steven Gerrard, whose partnership will grow week-in and week-out as the season progresses. Gerrard is not much of a defender, we know this much by now, and prefers to attack. He often lost concentration when defending and with his new partner, his mistakes will often be minimal as the ex-Manchester City man will be there to clean up the mess.
Yes, it’s still early days for Bruce Arena and the new-look Galaxy, however, the addition of Nigel De Jong could be one of the shrewdest signings of the offseason. De Jong will often be one of the most underrated players on the pitch but he will not mind one bit as long as his team wins the full three points.