The LA Galaxy played a lot of young players in the preseason games we got to watch this year. Sometimes, there were so many young players on the field that LA Galaxy II trialists were getting real minutes in preseason with the first team.
Part of that was out of necessity, with a group of Galaxy first teamers — Julian Araujo, Sebastian Lletget, Jonathan dos Santos and Efrain Alvarez — out on international duty for part of the preseason. Part of it was newcomers being signed, getting their paperwork, coming back from injuries and so forth.
But heading into the 2021 season opener, Sunday afternoon against Inter Miami, I’m inclined to believe we may finally, finally start to see the Galaxy give young players real minutes.
Here’s five Homegrown players who I think will see some measurable playing time for the Galaxy in 2021:
Listen, literally no one nationally is talking about Saldaña, but he played in every single preseason game that we got to see and he looked good throughout. He was by far the most consistent performer in the preseason who played more than a game or so.
Saldaña, who enjoyed a strong season with Los Dos in 2020, is likely competing with Carlos Harvey for the “young minutes” in midfield. Dos Santos gets hurt a lot, so does Victor Vazquez. Sacha Kljestan is serviceable but not young, put simply. I think Lletget should play an attacking role, not in two-way midfield, frankly.
Given the oldness/injury-proneness of the experienced midfield, they could really use some young legs to do the dirty work and assist the veterans. And so I am taking a leap and saying I think Saldaña is going to get real minutes in 2021. I think he could become a starter, even. We’ll see if it happens but don’t be shocked if you get very familiar with him in a short amount of time.
Neal was a new player for Los Dos last year, but his rise has been meteoric. The defender was a regular for Galaxy II, and leveraged that into a contract with the first team.
Now, I think Neal will be used quite differently than Saldaña. I don’t expect Neal to start, not anytime soon barring a selection crisis, but Vanney seemed to trust the youngster in preseason, even putting him at right back, out of position, for one game and crediting the teen for rolling with it on a tough assignment.
But Vanney is one of the few coaches in MLS who is not afraid to sub defenders in games on a regular basis, and I bet Neal will get some late minutes in this way for LA. Save the starters’ legs a bit, give him some run to get him acclimated to MLS, Neal may not play a huge chunk of minutes, but I wouldn’t be shocked if he ends up playing a fair amount of games during the season, perhaps with a few starts mixed in along the way.
Remember when Cameron Dunbar had that really good start last season in the MLS is Back Tournament and then he basically didn’t play again? It didn’t make much sense. LA were chasing wins but it’s not like they were just full of contributors, at the very least Dunbar should have gotten more of a chance to show what he could do.
He may get that this season. I don’t expect he’ll be any more than a spot starter but I think he’ll definitely get some actual run off the bench this season, if he’s not playing for Los Dos. Either way, he’s getting playing time this season.
In the same boat as Dunbar, he didn’t play for the first team at all last year but Perez scored some in preseason and Vanney spoke highly of the homegrown being “fearless” in attack. I think he’ll be a bench option, too, but could split time with Los Dos as well. I wouldn’t be shocked if Perez scores a “fluke” goal or two in pretty short order once he gets a chance in MLS.
The enigma of the group, Alvarez has by far the most playing time of this group and has been on the first team roster the longest. For as much hype as he gets I don’t see a simple path to the starting XI for him unless he and Vazquez enter a timeshare as playmakers, and I’m not sure Vanney sees him in that role.
But Alvarez is entering a critical year for his development. If he continues to grow and shows improvements in his game, it will be a good year if he gets a good run on the field. If he gets buried, which seems possible, then his progress may stall out.
I think in order to be a regular starter Alvarez either needs to beat out someone else for a spot or he needs to take advantage of an opportunity. He can still make an impact off the bench, however, and that may be the better role for him in the short term, if he and Vanney are on the same page. A game-changing sub will draw plenty of attention and hype, too. But unlike the other four players mentioned, who are more or less unknowns, Alvarez has the soccer world’s attention and is trying to live up to the hype. He can’t do that in a single game, but his trajectory this season could end up saying a lot about his career path.
What do you think? Leave a comment below.