sports 4 days ago

A.J. DeLaGarza's homecoming gives ex-Galaxy star a chance for closure

Los Angeles Times — Kevin Baxter Los Angeles Times

June 18--A.J. DeLaGarza insists he doesn't hold any grudges.

But you would understand if he did.

After eight seasons and 204 games played with the Galaxy, the team reneged on assurances not to trade DeLaGarza in January, abruptly selling him to the Houston Dynamo for allocation money just a week before the start of preseason camp.

"I was shocked and disappointed," the versatile defender said at the time.

Six months later he said he's over all that. Which made Saturday's return to StubHub Center to face his old team less a quest for revenge than it was a chance for closure.

"I never really gave my farewell to the fans, who had a big impact on my life. On and off the field," said DeLaGarza, who was one of the Galaxy's most popular players. "I kind of never really got to process everything just because of the quick turnaround.

"I can't, obviously, go around the whole stadium and thank everybody individually. Just to be there, face to face, and be able to thank [the fans] is a little bit more special."

Still DeLaGarza, who won three MLS Cups with the Galaxy and ranks fifth in franchise history in games played, admits the homecoming will be a strange one.

"I've gone against my best friend, but individually," said DeLaGarza, who roomed with Kansas City's Graham Zusi in college, then played against him in MLS. "Not a whole bunch of guys who I've known for so long. It will be weird."

That's the same word Galaxy forward Gyasi Zardes, a teammate of DeLaGarza's for four seasons, used to describe the reunion.

"I'm used to seeing A.J. and my teammate and it's going to be weird seeing him on the opposite side," Zardes said.

But if Saturday's homecoming loomed large for DeLaGarza on a personal level, it was also a big game for his new team. With help from DeLaGarza and Leonardo, another former Galaxy defender who left for Houston over the winter, the Dynamo entered the weekend tied for second in the league with seven wins.

But none of those have come on the road, where the Dynamo were 0-6-1.

The Galaxy, meanwhile, was last in MLS with just one home victory and was missing eight starters to injury, suspension and international duty. That leaves them with a backline featuring just one man -- second-year MLS player Ashley Cole -- who has started more than 14 games in the league.

DeLaGarza and Leonardo, who combined to win the Galaxy's defender-of-the-year award three times in the last five seasons, could have filled some of those holes. If only the team hadn't let them go, saving $400,000 in salary in the process.

"Team-wise we're building something pretty good," DeLaGarza said of the Dynamo, who have already won as many games this season as they did all of last year. "To get a win in L.A. will be big for us and hopefully we'll move forward from there."

DeLaGarza insists he has already done that. Six months after cleaning out his locker at StubHub Center for the last time, following a trade he never saw coming, he said he has learned to deal with the hurt while not completely getting over it.

"Everything happens for a reason," he said. "My wife and I are happy in Houston.

"That's bigger than any grudges."

Twitter: @kbaxter11


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