At the end of January, Mexico national team manager Juan Carlos Osorio confidently stated LA Galaxy attacker Giovani dos Santos was in great shape.
Usually when a professional soccer player achieves match fitness, their skill on the pitch quickly follows suit. This hasn’t been the case with Gio, who’s form through the preseason and the first two games has been shockingly poor. It’s a worrisome trend for the 28-year old, who could be facing a year of misery if his struggles continue.
“As I said last week, I was in Los Angeles and he’s in a very good athletic condition, maybe the best of his career.”- Juan Carlos Osorio
It should be said that for all his talent, prior to his arrival in Los Angeles Gio had yet to prove he was the type of attacking threat capable of carrying a team on his own. On the contrary, the former La Masia prodigy has always been a bit of an enigma, with manager after manager maneuvering to get the best out of the El Tri regular.
In Giovani’s first full year with the club, dos Santos was a success: 14 goals and 11 assists in 25 regular season games. Crucially, dos Santos showed he didn’t need to be surrounded by Catalonian royalty to put up big numbers. In the absence of Robbie Keane, Gio thrived.
Last season was obviously a nightmare for LA, but Sigi Schmid’s offseason makeover renewed hope Gio could bounce back from a unproductive haul of 6 goals and 3 assists, especially in light of El Tri boss Osorio’s comments. So far, it hasn’t happened.
If these were more fortunate times, dos Santos would be afforded the time to find his footing in the new-look attack and ease into form. But this is 2018, and the future is now.
It’s not an exaggeration to say Gio’s World Cup hopes hang in the balance. The tournament is 90 days away and Mexico’s squad is chock-full of attacking talent, leading critics to question whether Gio deserves a spot. If the attacker has a place in the squad, its certainly not guaranteed.
Giovani’s body of work the next few months will determine whether he earns a trip to Russia. And with his brother Jona and Carlos Vela across town both performing, there are no excuses: Dos Santos must follow their lead.
As the dos Santos brothers go, so does LA. Gio missing out on the World Cup would be a personal disaster, and its tough to imagine dos Santos would bounce back right away.
Again, in earlier times this might be deemed acceptable, if inevitable behavior. But in Sigi Schmid, Gio is dealing with a no-nonsense personality. In the past few weeks, there have been multiple incidents that suggest things might be different in 2018.
When Gio was subbed in the 72nd minute of LA’s opening weekend victory over the Timbers, Sigi stated dos Santos had tired legs but the move raised a few eyebrows.
Sunday in the Bronx, more than a few eyebrows were raised. At some point during the first half of LA’s defeat to NYCFC, Gio picked up a knock and lacked the acceleration to continue. Clearly he needed to be taken out, but for some bizzare reason that has yet to be explained, dos Santos hobbled on until the halftime whistle, even after swinging his leg toward the sideline in frustration.
Sigi adjusted the formation to a 4-3-3 and moved JDS to the playmaker role, and the Galaxy responded with a significantly improved second half performances, prompting the experts to openly question whether Gio deserves to start at this point. And with dos Santos firmly in the doghouse of Galaxy fans, Sigi is in a favorable position to show Gio some tough love.
Whether or not Gio maintains his place as a starter whenever he returns from injury is something worth keeping an eye on. - Matt Doyle
Of course, the Galaxy need Gio as much as Gio needs the Galaxy. The league has too much quality now for LA to expect success without getting the most out of their star Designated Player, and there’s little to no chance the club offloads dos Santos while his brother is on the books.
Not all is lost. After all, dos Santos could use more touches on the ball, and Sigi is likely already hard at work on a solution. But there are no more “What ifs?”. The only way for Gio to get out of this predicament is to perform.