The LA Galaxy’s visits to BBVA Compass Stadium are always among the most eagerly anticipated games of the season, and the prospect of Erick “Cubo” Torres and Steven Gerrard facing off on the same field on Saturday night (8 p.m. CT; TICKETS) only heightens the hype.
A week after he arrived in Texas after the end of his loan spell with Chivas Guadalajara, the Mexican international is in line to make his home debut against the reigning MLS champions, having come off the bench as a second half substitute in the 3-1 U.S. Open Cup quarterfinal loss to Sporting Kansas City on Tuesday.
“What we have to do now is build up his fitness but we know moving forward he’s going to be an outstanding player for the club — a great acquisition, a wonderful player, I’ve got to say a very nice character as well,” head coach Owen Coyle told reporters on Friday.
“He’s energetic, the players have really taken to him and we look forward to working with him for many years and him scoring many goals for the Dynamo.”
Coyle expects the striker to be available off the substitutes’ bench against the Galaxy. “It won’t be too long before he’s ready to start games,” he said. “We’re building [his fitness] up but you can see he’s a natural finisher with good movement. Even the other night when he came on and we were down to ten men he worked his socks off for the team and he was very clever in dangerous areas so there’s no doubt moving forward he’ll be a tremendous addition to the club.
“What we have to do now is get him physically and mentally into a situation that he’s ready to start games and that comes with training on the field, getting some minutes on the pitch and building that up and that’s what we’ll look to do.”
The 22-year-old said it “felt good to put on that orange shirt and get some time in, even though it wasn’t a lot. I’m really looking forward to the home game tomorrow where I can be in front of the home crowd and do what I came to do… I feel good. I feel strong, I’m just ready to take direction and when they tell me to go in and play I’ll be ready to go.”
He’s not the only new Dynamo player set to feature on Saturday. Defender Sheanon Williams was acquired from the Philadelphia Union midweek along with an international roster slot in exchange for general allocation money.
The Boston-born 25-year-old went to the IMG Soccer Academy as a teenager and played for lower league sides Carolina Dynamo and Harrisburg City Islanders, joining the Union midway through the 2010 season and becoming their first-choice right back. He made 141 MLS appearances for Philadelphia, all but three of them starts, contributing eight assists and two goals in 2013. His most recent league start came on June 24 against the Seattle Sounders.
“Sheanon Williams I think is a very good player and has been in the league over a number of years. He’s still only 25, so young and talented,” said Coyle. “From the injury perspective we’ve been really down in numbers and Sheanon adds to that and can play a number of positions across the back line. Very flexible and having spoken to him he’s very motivated to come and do well.”
After lining up against the Dynamo so often, Williams admits it’ll be an adjustment to play for them, but one he is looking forward to. “I’m just excited to be here, to get started with a new team and expectations are high for me at least, I know that this is a franchise that’s won a lot and I’m sure they’re looking to do a bit more winning, so hopefully we can continue that,” he told reporters. “I played them so many times — definitely a team that was hard to beat and I don’t think we beat them that much so it’s nice to be on the other side of it.”
Williams’ versatility will come in useful as the roster copes with a number of absences. Right back Kofi Sarkodie and midfielder Luis Garrido will miss the Galaxy game through suspension, left back DaMarcus Beasley and forward Giles Barnes are on CONCACAF Gold Cup duty, while playmaker Boniek García, attacker Rob Lovejoy and center back Jermaine Taylor are injured. Coyle said that the club is awaiting word on the severity of the Jamaican international’s muscle problem but fears it could be serious.
“I’ll play wherever the team needs me to play, I’ve done that through my career and I’ll continue to do that. I just want to win,” Williams said.
That’s a character trait that Coyle said has driven Gerrard to be one of the best players on the planet. The Liverpool legend and former England captain, now aged 35, underlined his talent with a clinical finish on his MLS debut in a 5-2 win over the San Jose Earthquakes last Friday.
Especially after coming up against him as an EPL coach, Coyle is very familiar with the midfielder. “He’s a world-class player and he always has been. He’s a leader, you’ve seen his quality already coming into the LA Galaxy and there’s no doubt he’ll certainly take them to another level with the quality they have and the understanding with Robbie Keane, they were teammates at Liverpool as well,” he said.
“So there’s no doubt he has tremendous talent but he’s also very driven, he’s a real leader, a winner and we have to make sure we deal with that tomorrow night. Having said that he’ll be an outstanding addition to the league and I think the Galaxy and MLS have to be applauded for bringing somebody of that caliber to the league.”
Tom Dart is a contributing writer to HoustonDynamo.com and HoustonDashSoccer.com. Former editor and reporter for The Times of London and reporter for SI.com, Dart currently freelances for The Guardian.