FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Three times A.J. DeLaGarza has lifted MLS Cup while playing for teams coached by Bruce Arena, and the versatile 33-year-old defender enjoyed the experience so much that he thought he’d link up with Arena once again to try for title number four. Only this time, it’s in New England.
DeLaGarza, who began his career with the LA Galaxy in 2009 and played under Arena for eight seasons, spent the past four years with the Houston Dynamo (2017-19) and Inter Miami CF (2020), but couldn’t replicate the success he’d had in Los Angeles, where he won titles in 2011, 2012, and 2014. So when he entered free agency this offseason, DeLaGarza’s top priority was signing with a contender.
The logical choice to achieve that goal, he said, was reuniting with Arena in New England.
“I wanted to join a team that was going to compete for an MLS Cup, for Supporters’ Shield, for Open Cup – for all of it,” said DeLaGarza, who also won two Supporters’ Shields (2010, 2011) in LA. “I’m coming towards the end of my career, and all I want to do at this point is win. I think New England will give me a very good opportunity to do that.”
DeLaGarza was an interested onlooker as the Revs made a run to the Eastern Conference Final this past season – falling to eventual champions Columbus Crew SC – and saw trophy-winning potential in New England’s dynamic attacking corps and the club’s tightknit defensive unit.
“You look at the guys on the team now, and having watched them in the playoffs, man, there’s a lot of good, young talent, and a lot of very good playmakers and guys that make a huge difference on that team,” said DeLaGarza. “When I watched their games in the playoffs, they were a team that defended all together, and as a defender, it brought joy to my eyes. I’m looking forward to it.”
DeLaGarza has spent recent years at right back but is capable of playing all across the backline, providing versatility in defense. He said his objective is to compete for starting minutes, but he also understands that as a veteran of 12 MLS seasons, his role with the team won’t be limited to what he does on the field, but also what he brings to the locker room.
“I remember Bruce bringing in those veteran guys my rookie year (in LA), and just how much they helped the young guys,” said DeLaGarza. “Even here [in Miami], it was a crazy year for me. I knew I wasn’t going to play, because (the coach) told me that, so I had to come in every day with a positive attitude and a positive mindset of how can I still help my teammates and how can I still help this team?
“At the end of the day, I want to win, and whether a coach doesn’t want me on the field or he wants me on the field, I’m going to come in and do that every day.”
Familiarity with Arena was a big draw for DeLaGarza, who said recent years were “tough” as he played under three different head coaches in four seasons. Both player and coach know what to expect from each other and what each can bring to the table.
Most importantly, they both know that the other has a winning mentality.
“He knows how competitive I am,” DeLaGarza said of Arena. “Being with him again will bring back a lot of memories, and hopefully it’ll bring back a lot of wins, as well.”