Last July inside a packed stadium club for the press conference welcoming Giovani dos Santos to Los Angeles, Bruce Arena expressed a desire to see the El Tri international improve as a player.
At the time, it seemed like a pleasant throwaway line. After all, there was so much excitement surrounding LA finally landing one of Mexico’s top talents the focus was on what the Galaxy had, not what they could have.
Fast forward a year later, and Gio has decisively silenced his critics with a MVP-like season, racking up an impressive 14 goals and 12 assists in 27 games.
These numbers are well-earned. Dos Santos has not had the benefit of a consistent attack to combine with this year, nor are his golazos the result of playing in an inferior league. As has been the case for many Designated Players coming into MLS, it has taken time for Gio to adapt to the rigors of a fast-paced, physically athletic league. Not to mention the travel.
Over time however, dos Santos has slowly but surely developed into a more complete player, and the results are starting to bear fruit, most recently with a call-up to the Mexican National Team.
So how has dos Santos improved?
Gio actually plays defense! Not known for his tracking abilities in the past, dos Santos has bought into a central attacking role that encourages Gio to put in more defensive work.
It wasn’t a smooth transition at first, but Gio has improved over the course of the season: Especially in the last six weeks, dos Santos has honed his defensive responsibilities, putting pressure on opposing attackers and cutting off passing lanes. During last month’s breakout performance in a 4-2 win vs. Orlando City for example, Gio tallied eight recoveries.
Improved fitness: Last season, Dos Santos would usually become winded by the hour mark of matches, struggling to keep up the tempo vs. more athletic sides. Fortunately however, a full off-season utilizing LA’s fitness regimen and playing in the league week in and week out have ultimately made Gio a fitter player who consistently attacks for 90 minutes. Case in point: Gio’s late brace on the road vs. RSL.
Desire: No longer the prized racehorse of his Barcelona days, dos Santos has been toughened up by the unforgiving landscape of American soccer, and the result is a hungrier individual, someone not as willing to wait for the game to come to him and eager to make an impression on matches.
As you can see from the clips below, both goals are the direct result of hustle plays from Gio: His lung-bursting run in tandem with Emmanuel Boateng’s measured cross gave Dos Santos a tap-in for LA’s opener, and his sprint to get back onsides before finding Jelle Van Damme led to Alan Gordon putting the Galaxy in the lead.
You also don’t see it in the highlights, but after Gio scored the opening goal, his first reaction was to grab the ball and forcefully fist pump a few times, the attacker still visibly upset LA conceded early. It was a righteous moment from the 27-year-old, with hopefully more to come.
LA might be in the middle of an identity crisis in attack, but similar to the in-form Sebastian Lletget, dos Santos is pulling his weight for the club.