Following a tough 2019 season with the Chicago Fire, Aleksandar Katai is ready for a new challenge in MLS.
The midfielder joined the LA Galaxy this offseason, signing a deal after the Fire declined his contract option for 2020.
Speaking to LAG Confidential in an exclusive interview on Thursday, Katai is excited about playing for the Galaxy, who he had high praise for.
“I’m very happy to be part of the Galaxy team, it’s the biggest team in MLS history with the biggest history, you know?” Katai said. “It’s a pleasure for me to be here.”
The 28-year-old joins LA after two seasons in Chicago, where he scored 18 goals and 12 assists in 62 regular-season games. While Katai was arguably an under-the-radar breakout star in 2018, his form was more inconsistent last year, as the entire Fire team appeared to underperform, something Katai appeared to be puzzled by, even months later.
“I don’t know what to say. We felt good, I think we had a good team and I think we were unlucky,” he said. “We created a lot of chances, a lot of games we played very good but we...I don’t know. I think we were unlucky.”
Katai’s exit from Chicago still raised some eyebrows, considering his quality, but his departure comes as the club has largely cleared out in the offseason, including the dismissal of head coach Veljko Paunovic and the hiring of Raphael Wicky to that role.
Katai was asked about Paunovic’s firing, the manager being a Serbian compatriot, but the player didn’t want to dwell on the past.
“That stays behind me and they’re doing what they think is best for them. It’s not my job and I really don’t want to talk about that,” he explained.
In LA, Katai will play for Guillermo Barros Schelotto and when asked if he was excited to play for the Argentine, responded, “Absolutely.”
The pair have talked briefly but Katai is excited to build a rapport with Schelotto.
“We were talking a little bit, when I signed we just talked on the phone, nothing special. Day after tomorrow we are starting preseason and then we will talk more about everything,” Katai said.
Katai has been involved in Serbia’s set-up during his time in Chicago, and with the national team heading into a crucial playoff to see if they’ll qualify for Euro 2020 this spring, the player remains interested in representing his team, even if the flight to Serbia will be a bit longer now.
“Of course I would love to be back in the national team. It’s a little bit of a problem, because it’s not the same, how they play in Europe and here, but ok, we’ll see.”
When asked about goals for the season, Katai is all about the team, shrugging off talk of personal benchmarks.
“It’s for the team, and first of all we need to be in the playoffs and then we want to go step by step. I really want to bring trophies this year,” he said, aiming for his first league title since 2015-16 at Red Star Belgrade.
“[Personal accomplishments do] not matter for me, it’s first the team and then [me].”
With preseason set to kick off, Katai mentioned he’s already moved his family to Los Angeles and is ready to hit the ground running, so to speak, on the field.
“My family, we are already here in LA and we find an apartment, we move our stuff from Chicago and everything was very easy and quick,” he said.
“That’s very important. If it’s possible to have [the move done before the season] like this it’s great, that you can come here and see everything and see the city and find the places. For me, it’s good.”
Of course, Los Angeles is an international city, and Katai sounds like he’s ready to explore both the familiar and unknown of the area.
“I was looking for the opposite [of the Serbian neighborhood in Los Angeles],” Katai quipped. “I’m just joking! I have some friends here and they told me [the Serbian community is] in Long Beach, I found an apartment in Marina del Rey, so we’ll see. Now we have time to explore everything.”
Katai and the Galaxy kick off the 2020 MLS season on Feb. 29 at the Houston Dynamo.
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