CARSON -- There were a number of positives in the Galaxy's Major League Soccer-opening loss Saturday night to Real Salt Lake. The greatest might have been the performance of the rookie.
Tommy Meyer, a central defender taken at the close of the first round of January's MLS SuperDraft, looked steady and solid in his professional debut, playing his role in limiting the Utahns' attacking opportunities until everything fell apart at the finish. He went until the 84th minute, departing in favor of offensive reinforcements moments after L.A. fell behind and before RSL tacked on the final goal in a 3-1 victory at Home Depot Center.
“I thought he played well tonight,” head coach Bruce Arena noted afterward. “Tommy was pretty solid. He had a good night.”
Fourth-year veteran A.J. DeLaGarza was more complimentary: “He did a tremendous job, from my standpoint.”
You might not have noticed the former Indiana University standout unless you were trying to, which isn't a bad thing for a center back. He was strong positionally, made good reads, distributed well, won headers and broke up attacks, handling nearly everything thrown his way with great aplomb.
Perhaps he could have done more on Javier Morales' game-winner in the 80th minute -- the Argentine, as one might expect, reacted immediately when Michael Stephens' challenge from behind knocked the ball from Alvaro Saborio and onto his path -- and there were little things here and there, but all in all, no complaints.
“It's nice to get the first game under my belt,” Meyer said, “but, obviously, the result wasn't what we wanted.”
Arena took the blame for that, admitting that he should have made more than two changes from the lineup he'd sent out for Wednesday's CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal first leg at Toronto FC. Meyer was one of those changes, for Andrew Boyens, and he said watching the action Wednesday, in front of a frenzied crowd of 47,658, readied him for Saturday.
“I kind of was able to prepare myself for what it might be like if I were to get the nod,” he said. “I kind of took that chance and let it sink in a little bit.”
He found out he'd be starting earlier Saturday and had the expected butterflies as he stepped onto the turf in front of 27,000 at HDC, but “as soon as the whistle starts, that all goes out the door, and you're ready to play.”
DeLaGarza knows what that's like. He and Omar Gonzalez, whose absence to injury has opened a spot in the middle, were thrown in as rookies in 2009. Both developed quickly into two of the league's better backliners.
“I'm sure there were nerves, his first game as a professional. I'm sure after awhile the nerves went away,” DeLaGarza said. “We didn't have to talk much. He was on a man, just mark a forward. I think he did a fine job. I never worried about him.”
Meyer, who will turn 22 on March 20, received lots of instruction since camp broke Jan. 23. He played in eight of the Galaxy's nine preseason matches, paired with DeLaGarza in seven of them, and only second-year winger Hector Jimenez saw more on-field minutes during the schedule.
“You prepare in preseason,” Meyer said. “Even though the games don't necessarily mean anything, you still want to win every game, and you approach every game the same way. … I think I learned from a couple of the games from preseason where maybe I made a couple of mistakes. Coming in tonight, I wanted to eliminate those and have a full game where I was concentrating.”
As the fatigue factor accelerated in the final 25 minutes, RSL made two changes -- bringing on Morales and Saborio, among MLS's most gifted attacking players -- and took charge. The goals came quickly, and the Galaxy was done. No blame to Meyer.
“I don't think he did anything wrong on any of the goals,” captain Landon Donovan said. “I think overall he was solid. There's a few plays we'll watch [on film] with him, that I thought he could have done a little better on, but I think overall he had a good night, and it was a good debut for him.”
Meyer said he was happy to get the first game out of the way.
“This is definitely something that I've been waiting for for a long time,” he said. “It's nice to get it over with, and a great experience. Obviously, not the result I would have liked for my first game, but now we can move on. … [Playing] helps my confidence a little bit. I'm prepared to play whenever [Arena] needs me. If the chance comes [in Wednesday's second leg against Toronto, at HDC], I'll be ready.”