Staring down your first Major League Soccer start has to be a mix of excitement and trepidation. And for the LA Galaxy’s 22-year old Nathan Smith, the next 24 hours could be all those emotions and more.
Signed to the senior team on March 2, 2017, as a Homegrown player, just two days before the LA Galaxy opened their season with a 2-1 loss to FC Dallas, Smith is now staring down the likelihood of an MLS debut on Sunday.
With Ashley Cole still coming back from a calf injury — he’s been training and might be back in time for the Galaxy’s first away game against Real Salt Lake on Saturday, March 18 — and the suspension to Dave Romney, Smith looks to be next in line.
“I’m feeling confident. Anything can happen. I’m hoping that I am starting, but it’s not announced yet,” Smith told CoG after training on Saturday. “I’m just hoping for the best — just keeping ready as if I’m going to start.”
Smith, from his hometown of Clovis, California, spent last year with the LA Galaxy’s USL affiliate, LA Galaxy II, after forgoing his senior year at UCLA. And Before that Smith was an LA Galaxy academy player. So the Galaxy knew what they were getting when they signed him.
As an added benefit, Smith has already played under Head Coach Curt Onalfo. “It’s good that I got a year with him [Onalfo], with the second team under my belt,” Said Smith. “I’m familiar with him, his system, how he wants us to play. So it’s helped out tremendously.”
If he’s going to start on Sunday, something that neither he nor Onalfo would confirm, Smtih may find some confidence in going against the Timbers. Before the start of the season, the Galaxy faced off against Portland, in a match at StubHub Center — a game they ultimately lost. In the second half, Smith was called upon to step in for Jelle Van Damme after Van Damme came down with food poisoning. Romney slid over to the center back position and that left Smith to patrol at left back.
“It helps a lot that I’ve seen them [Portland] already, and I went against them. So it shouldn’t be anything too new,” Smith said with young confidence. “I expect them to score a lot of goals since they put five [goals] against Minnesota. So a lot of flair going forward with Adi, Nagbe, and Valeri and their number 10. Just a lot of pressure from them attacking.”
Smith has the nod of confidence from Galaxy Head Coach Curt Onalfo who spoke highly of the young defender. Saying that Smith could play anywhere on the back line and that if he’s called upon on Sunday, he knows smith can perform the task.
Smith is expected to line up next to Jelle Van Damme, Daniel Steres, and Rafa Garcia. Garcia is playing for the injured Robbie Rogers, and with no timeline for Rogers’ return, Smith could also be auditioning for the backup on the other side as well.
Could Nathan be the key to LA surprising Portland? Here’s a video, showing Smith on the left side, playing for the US U-17 Men’s National Team. Nathan takes a casual pass from “John” McBean — also known as Jack McBean — in the 92nd minute of the match.
Smith pulls the ball inside, and with his right foot, blasts a long shot to the far post for the US win.
Whether or not Smith and the Galaxy can stack up against a very good Timbers team will be of utmost importance. After losing to FC Dallas last weekend, the team will need to find some points from their second consecutive home game. Otherwise, they’d risk starting 0-2 at home — something that has never happened in franchise history.
The Galaxy will kick off at 4:00 PM from StubHub Center on Sunday, March 12, 2017 and can be watched live on Fox Sports 1.