CARSON, Calif. – The LA Galaxy defense, an object of scorn and ridicule after two years in which it allowed a combined 131 goals, has undergone a redemption this season.
It is tied with Los Angeles FC, Houston and Atlanta United for allowing the fewest goals, eight, in Major League Soccer after Sunday’s 2-1 victory over Real Salt Lake at Dignity Health Sports Park.
The central defense partnership of Dan Steres and Uruguayan import Diego Polenta has been instrumental in the defensive turnaround and helped vanquish memories of the duo of Jorgen Skjelvik and Michael Ciani which proved ineffective, to put it mildly.
“I think we’re starting to understand each other,” Steres said. “How we play, where we’re going to be.
“Hopefully the language barrier” – Polenta speaks little, if any, English – “has been broken down a little bit each game,” he went on with a grin. “I’m speaking more Spanish, he’s speaking more English.
“We’re understanding each other and we’re playing well.”
Said Polenta through an interpreter, “I think we’ve been getting to know each other and learning off each other in the past few games, little by little.
“It’s good to share the back line with him and I think he’s played well. I think we’re on a good path.”
Whereas Polenta is a sturdy 6-foot-1, 192-pounder who is built like a fireplug, Steres stands an unassuming 6 feet and weighs 175 pounds. But don’t let his less than imposing stature fool you.
“He’s just someone when you play against him, you’re going to feel him,” Galaxy midfielder Chris Pontius said. “You don’t necessarily want to get into any one-on-one duels with him. He’s pretty hard-nosed and is just a smart defender.
“He’s been awesome. Awesome.”
Steres, a native of Calabasas who started the last five games of 2018 at center back and has started all nine games this season, is making it hard on head coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto to take him out of the lineup. The recent addition of Costa Rican defender Giancarlo Gonzalez was thought to perhaps speed up that process but Steres could be causing Schelotto to have second thoughts about making such a personnel switch.
“Look,” Steres said to a reporter. “They’re going to bring in as many good players as they can to make this team better. I have this spot and I want it to remain mine and I just want to keep proving myself week in and week out with consistent performances.
”That’s all of our jobs, to compete and see who’s going to do better for the club. I’m just trying to do my job right now.”
So far, so good for Steres and a defense that appears to be light years from last season when, after nine games, the Galaxy already had allowed 15 goals en route to finishing the season with 64 goals against. It wasn’t much better in 2017, when the Galaxy allowed 13 goals after nine games and 67 goals against on the year.
“We’re organized and we’re playing proper tactics with how we want to defend,” Steres said. “We’re just trying to keep them out of our box and out of our goal. I think we’re playing very well.”
Steres understandably is pleased with how his season has transpired to this point.
“Extremely happy,” he said. “I’ve known I’ve been capable of this for a while. I think last year was a tough situation with me and maybe the coaching staff didn’t agree with how I was playing. But I think I showed my quality at the end of the year and had a fresh start this year to play well.“I feel good physically and I feel like I’m coming into my prime right now as a defender. I don’t think there’s any reason to think I can’t keep doing this.”