Cross James Riley off the short list of fullback options for the Galaxy. After this weekend’s injury at Real Salt Lake, the veteran defender is out for six months. On Thursday, LA Galaxy confirmed the 31-year-old had undergone successful surgery to repair a torn left lateral meniscus. If his recovery goes as planned, Riley will back in late September, long after the point where Bruce Arena will need to find an alternative.
Originally, Riley was an alternative. After spending last season with D.C.United, the former Sounders full back latched on as a depth option in L.A., eventually giving Arena somebody who could start in place of Todd Dunivant on opening day. Riley’s ability to play on the right allowed Arena to move A.J. DeLaGarza into the middle in Utah after the team’s poor performance in Mexico. When he was forced out of Saturday’s game early, Dan Gargan — the alternative to the alternative — finished out the draw.
Unfortunately, aside from Home Grown right back Oscar Sorto, that’s all Los Angeles has. Greg Cochrane, Sean Franklin, and Bryan Gaul are all gone, a situation Riley and Gargan’s signings were intended to address. They were supposed to be Plan Bs for Dunivant and DeLaGarza.
Now Riley is out, and because a central pairing of Omar Gonzalez and Leonardo looked molasses slow over the team’s first three games, DeLaGarza may be needed in the middle. The one-deep fullback depth charts Arena had this preseason are back. If they’re not, that means Leonardo’s been put back in the starting lineup.
This was the big question about LA in the preseason. It wasn’t so much that they lacked a back four. It’s was more about the lack of a alternatives. What if Dunivant didn’t find his 2012 self? What if Leonardo didn’t let DeLaGarza move outside? What if anybody got injured?
They’re questions that don’t need answers in March. As evidenced by LA’s first two league results, the team’s capable or working through the problem; at least, in the short-term. While their back line may have been the reason they didn’t advance in Champions League, those things are going to happen to MLS teams. Sometimes, a team is just not going to be ready for March’s knockout rounds.
At some point, however, it looks like LA’s going to have to make a move. Maybe two. James Riley may not be the biggest loss in the world, but in an already thin defense, his injury shines new light on the Galaxy’s biggest weakness.