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LA Galaxy 2020 player postmortem: Aleksandar Katai

Midfielder came and went for off-field reasons.

MLS: LA Galaxy at Houston Dynamo Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Aleksandar Katai’s arrival and departure from the LA Galaxy were certainly not quite something seen before in MLS.

The Serbian midfielder joined LA from the Chicago Fire in the offseason. With two seasons of MLS experience under his belt, I think Guillermo Barros Schelotto expected Katai would lock down the right midfield spot and contribute goals, after scoring 18 the past two years.

He didn’t get a goal, but Katai was a starter for the first two games, and looked to be settling in on the field, even with the Galaxy sputtering out of the gate. The 29-year-old was expected to contribute straightaway, and he played nearly all of those first two games.

Here were Katai’s stats with the Galaxy:

Aleksandar Katai LA Galaxy 2020 Statistics

2020 Games Played Games Started Minutes Goals Assists Shots SOG Yellow Cards Red Cards
2020 Games Played Games Started Minutes Goals Assists Shots SOG Yellow Cards Red Cards
Regular Season 2 2 117 0 0 8 0 2 0

Of course, the story of Katai wasn’t what happened on the field but rather what happened off it. In fact, it made his performances for the Galaxy irrelevant, really.

In early June, with the season suspended and as protests unfolded around the country in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, emotions were high and we certainly saw the spectrum of opinions over the protests.

One person whose opinions were quite extreme was Katai’s wife, Tea, who posted several racist messages on social media about the protests, and Galaxy fans spoke up quickly and definitively. I think without the groundswell of reaction on the part of the fanbase, the club may not have acted in the way they did. Particularly because the offender here was a player’s spouse, not the player himself, it would have been easy to do what teams typically do in similar situations, close ranks and slap the wrist of the player while changing nothing.

Instead, the Galaxy ended up cutting Katai and the player agreed to move on June 5. Perhaps his vow to “take full responsibility” on behalf of his family was followed through, or maybe he realized he was likely not going to ever move beyond this and didn’t want to fight it. For what it’s worth, I think his position was untenable, and again, given the context in the country at the moment, many had no desire to see someone, even the spouse of a player, be publicly racist with no consequences.

Adding a coda on the whole saga, Katai’s former teammate CJ Sapong subsequently said publicly that Katai basically refused to engage with Sapong, who is Black, and at times wouldn’t even pass to him. You can say that we’re only hearing one side of the story there, but to be fair, the context around Katai and his wife makes it sound plausible!

It’s quite likely that Sapong wasn’t going around telling players on other teams about Katai’s conduct as a teammate, but that sounds like a red flag! Like the kind of thing a new team looking to sign a player would want to dig up before they sign the player. I don’t think it’s fair to blame the Galaxy for the Katai racism mess, but it does seem like maybe some possible due diligence wasn’t done ahead of time to avoid a scandal later.

Still, credit to the Galaxy for cutting the player and moving on. It hurt them on the field, too, with Julian Araujo playing out of position much of the time and the delayed arrival of Yony Gonzalez making his time on the field limited and ineffective in the end. At the same time, Katai played on a mostly bad Fire team and while he would have scored some goals he would not have singlehandedly brought the Galaxy to the playoffs this year.

And Katai landed on his feet, signing with Serbian powerhouse Red Star Belgrade, and has 10 goals in 20 appearances so far this season. His career isn’t over, just his MLS career. Some of you will be fine with that, others won’t, but that’s what’s happening.

That’s the end of Aleksandar Katai and the LA Galaxy. I’ve been covering this league for about a decade and this was a one-of-a-kind situation. Let’s hope it stays that way in the future.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.