A.J. DeLaGarza enters his second consecutive January camp with seasoning and success under his belt, and with a new coach at the helm comes a new opportunity to represent the United States. The diminutive centerback will be looking to take advantage of his three weeks training as he seeks his first cap with the full National Team. A native of Maryland, DeLaGarza played four years at the University of Maryland and collected two national championships before signing with the LA Galaxy in 2009. The defender was a stalwart on the Galaxy’s backline in 2011, starting in 30 games as he helped marshal the team to both the MLS Cup title and the Supporters Shield.
ussoccer.com: How are you feeling so far?
AD: “I feel good. Obviously the Galaxy had a pretty good year, and I had a little bit of time off, but it’s good to be back playing soccer with some very good players in our league and around the world.”
ussoccer.com: This is your second January camp. Even though it’s a new coach, do you feel the experience from the previous year has you better prepared for what lies ahead in this camp?
AD: “Even though they’re different coaches, you kind of know what to expect in terms of the workload. I think we’re doing probably a lot more stuff than we did last year with lifting, the nutrition education, fitness, and those types of things. It’s a little bit different, but Jurgen is trying to help us improve parts of our game that maybe we haven’t always focused on.”
ussoccer.com: Now that you’ve had time to think about it, what are your reflections on this past season and the championship?
AD: “It’s crazy. We set our goals at the beginning of the year, and those were to win the Supporters Shield, qualify for the next round of Champions League and win the MLS Cup, and those are all three huge accomplishments. To do that all in the same year is pretty special and pretty remarkable for where we’ve come from. Players have been coming in and out, and we’ve really gelled together. I think that’s what the good teams do. We’ve had a team for the last three years that has really come together, and the core group of guys has been the same.”
ussoccer.com: Do you ever get tired of people saying you’re pretty short for a defender?
AD: “They’re always going to do that when I’m standing next to Omar [Gonzalez]. I’m always going to have people who doubt me, but I just have to keep playing. I doubt they said I could win an MLS Cup with me and Omar in the middle, but we did it, and hopefully there’s more things I can accomplish.”
ussoccer.com: Does it motivate you when people say things like that?
AD: “Absolutely. You take it as motivation, kind of like, ‘What are these people talking about?’ You want to prove them wrong. And that’s what I keep doing, and hopefully I can continue that and just be the best player I can be if I was six feet tall or five feet tall. I think I have a good work rate, and that makes up for my height.”
ussoccer.com: Speaking of Omar, it’s awful that he tore his ACL on his first day on loan at Nurnberg. Have you had a chance to talk to him?
AD: “I talked to him the day of his MRI. Obviously he was down and not doing too well, but he’s got to keep his head up. He’s a hell of a player, and he’s going to bounce back and still go far in his career. The main thing for him is to get his body right, and he’s got a long career ahead of him. He’s only 23 years old, so there’s no need to rush into it. If something happens again, that would just be a bigger blow. Obviously it’s a blow for our team, but more so just for him. He has a bright future, so you feel sorry for him and the opportunity he missed out on in Germany.”
ussoccer.com: There’s a lot of people representing Maryland in this camp. Your roommate Graham Zusi played four years at Maryland and you won two national championships together.
AD: “Yeah it’s crazy. He and I went to Maryland the same year, lived in the same apartment for four years there, and he was one of the best men in my wedding. It’s pretty special to have him here and to see him succeed like he did this last year after he finally got his chances. I’m so proud of him, and he deserves to be here. I’m glad he finally got a call-up.”
ussoccer.com: What do we need to know about Graham as a roommate?
AD: “I think he’s changed a little bit, but in college he wasn’t the cleanliest person I guess you could say. I’ve already gotten a few texts from some friends talking about making sure he stays clean. He just plays on my iPad all day right now.”
ussoccer.com: Does it help having playing relationships with current or former teammates when you come into a new environment like a National Team camp?
AD: “Yeah, I think even going from college to LA, having Omar there was easy on both of us. We had someone to talk to every day when we didn’t know other people, and we were in training camp and all that kind of stuff. And then having Omar and Sean [Franklin] last year with the National Team helped, because we were all there for each other. Sean was my roommate last year, and now this year I’ve known most of these guys since they were here last year in camp. We all kind of know each other, but now it’s getting to know a new system and new coaches.”
ussoccer.com: When Jurgen talked about this camp, he said it was an opportunity for the ‘next guys in line’. With the chance to be seen for three weeks and play two games, how important is this opportunity?
AD: “This is big for us. The World Cup is in 2014, so it seems far away, but it’s not that much time. There’s probably not that many games before qualifying, so you want to kind of show what you can do to the coaches in these three weeks, and I think that’s huge. That’s a lot of time that you can show, and two games is great also, so just show up every single day with a positive attitude and leave a good mark from the coaches’ standpoint, and hopefully you get called into more games. Everyone’s ultimate goal is the World Cup.”
ussoccer.com: How would you say you’re different as a player from when you started as a pro?
AD: “I think I’m smarter in the things I do on the field and off the field. Just being around professionals – you know you’re a professional athlete, you have to take care of your body, you have to do the right things on and off the field, you have to come to work every single day because there’s always someone fighting for your spot. In college or club ball, you could probably take your foot off the gas a little bit because you know you have a secure spot, but here there are people fighting for their families.”
ussoccer.com: Is it really true that you just had your first bite of pineapple?
AD: “It is. It was actually pretty good, and I had my second bite this morning. I got into it. I don’t know why, but if something doesn’t look good to me, I don’t even try it. It’s a problem of mine. I’ve been eating chips for the past couple days, and I wanted to do something different. I saw a fruit cup so I took it. Fruit was a little bit healthier. I had hummus last night for the first time. I’m trying new things little by little.”
ussoccer.com: How’s your Spanish?
AD: I was actually learning it when you called me. We have a lot of foreign guys on our team, and I don’t really know what they’re saying at times, so I’d like to just tune in and listen. Just knowing different languages when we go to different places, being able to do stuff and speak in Spanish would be helpful. I’m only on chapter three, so it’s going to take some time.”
ussoccer.com: There are big opportunities in 2012 with both the Galaxy and the National Team. How are you approaching this year?
AD: “Last year was a long year, but hopefully we can make this year longer with CONCACAF Champions League, MLS play, next year’s CONCACAF Champions League [starting up], MLS Cup, and the U.S. Open Cup. We want to replicate what we did last year. Anything other than that and you kind of think you didn’t hit your goal because last year was special. I think we have the players that can do that again. No matter who we have on the field, we have great depth. I think we have three centerbacks out right now with torn ACLs, so we just have to find a replacement for that, but I think we have a good group of guys who can step in no matter what. That’s what we did last year, and I think we can do that again this year.”
ussoccer.com: What do enjoy most about playing for the Galaxy?
AD: “I think we’re a pretty good team. We have some great players, players who are known around the world like Landon [Donovan] and David [Beckham] and Robbie [Keane]. There are some young guys who bring a lot of flair to our group. I really like Paolo Cardozo, he’s a great player. We have a solid group of guys, and it’s just fun to be with them every day.”
ussoccer.com: These two games – Venezuela and Panama – could bring your first chance to represent the U.S. What does this mean for you?
AD: “That’s something you always look forward to as a young kid. You want to be on that stage, that National Team stage where you’re representing your country. I wasn’t able to do that last year, but I was there supporting the team, and we had a good come-from-behind tie with Chile. Just to put that jersey on is special, but when you put it on, you have to fight not only for yourself or your family, but for the whole entire country because they’re all going to be watching you. My parents are very proud. They have all the faith in me in the world, so they’re glad that I’m accomplishing all my dreams.”