Not to put too fine a point on things, but amid a disappointing season for the LA Galaxy, it was particularly disappointing for midfielder Jonathan dos Santos.
Coming off two consecutive good seasons in MLS, dos Santos was returning in 2020 and seen as the anchor who would help push LA to greater things on the field. The captain had been — perhaps Zlatan Ibrahimovic aside — the best player for the Galaxy in 2018 and 2019 and looked like he could push to be MLS Best XI. As a player who can’t really just be plugged into a lineup, he needs the team built around him as a deep-lying midfielder, dos Santos certainly needed help, but the Galaxy needed him to play well.
Things got off to a rough start in preseason when he was hurt. The club was cagey around the injury (which admittedly, many teams don’t like to disclose details) but they believed he could rest up and be good to go.
He missed the season opener in Houston, and then managed to last one half in the home opener in March, before the season shut down.
And then, he got surgery, and wasn’t able to play until the local return to play on Aug. 22.
I think in an ideal world, if the Galaxy knew what was coming they would have had dos Santos get the surgery in preseason and recuperate in time to play at the MLS is Back Tournament. Of course, no one could have expected what did happen in the world, and plus, dos Santos’ surgery was likely not possible early in the shutdown because the medical system was cutting back on non-essential surgeries. Could a pro athlete have gotten in earlier? Maybe, maybe not. But obviously, we can’t fault the Galaxy for not anticipating how everything would go down outside the club.
Here are dos Santos’ stats in 2020:
Jonathan dos Santos 2020 LA Galaxy Statistics
So over the final 17 games of the season for the Galaxy, all the local return to play phase, dos Santos ended up playing 12 of them. The first half of them, he came off the bench as he came back to fitness, and the final two games of the season, he was hurt/with the Mexican national team.
When he got a run, how did he do? Ehhhhhhhhhh. Like I said at the top, I think dos Santos was really disappointing this season. At his best, he subtly bosses the midfield. He isn’t a destroyer, he isn’t a big scorer, and he doesn’t even rack up assists, but he does a little bit of everything and passes the hell out of the ball. There’s a rhythm element to his game when he’s on, and it’s really fun to watch.
Unfortunately, I never saw that Jona in 2020. He never looked like he was in rhythm, everything was a struggle. Some of that was playing injured or getting back to fitness, some of that was from the team largely struggling around him. He had to be ready to be at 100 percent immediately, all the time, and honestly, he was more at a 70 or so.
But again, if he’s the subtle midfielder who needs the team built around him, and then he’s either hurt, out or ineffective, that impacts the rest of the team, badly. Perry Kitchen is a destroyer and had a decent season, but there was no midfield balance, and Joe Corona couldn’t play in anything close to dos Santos’ style. And so, with the balance out of whack, everyone struggled.
So what does the future hold? Dos Santos is under contract in 2021, with one year believed to be left on his Designated Player contract. There have been intermittent rumors about him moving to Club América to join Giovani, and those will likely persist until he moves there or retires. Does he want to go to Mexico City? Would the Galaxy consider selling him? I don’t think América has a huge transfer budget anyway, but if the Galaxy wanted to get some money, now is the time to sell him. I’m not telling them to do it, but from a rational business perspective, there is some logic in selling him right now.
At the same time, I think it’s entirely possible 2020 was a writeoff for dos Santos (and the Galaxy). Players get hurt, and it affects their performance. The surgery and disruptions in the season may be anomalous. He could come back in 2021 and look like a new man. We’ve seen him struggle with injuries before in MLS and pull out of it for a time to become dominant. There could very well be value yet in fielding him.
It’s a crossroads moment for dos Santos and the Galaxy. I don’t know if the club is seriously considering moving on from one of their biggest stars, but if they aren’t, and he struggles again in 2021, that could pull LA down like a millstone. I think he can be a fantastic player at his best, but the Galaxy may have to bet on him being back to that form if they are to right the ship next year.
What do you think? Leave a comment below.