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LA Galaxy 2021 Player Postmortem: Julian Araujo

Youngster took a leap up when he needed to.

MLS: LA Galaxy at Sporting Kansas City Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Julian Araujo was a player of promise in 2020 who needed to take a step up. And boy, did he deliver.

In a season where several players — Efrain Alvarez and Chicharito, notably — came back stronger in 2021, Araujo likely came away as most improved, and he became a budding star in the process.

One of the issues, of course, was that Guillermo Barros Schelotto liked to mess around with Araujo’s position. While I think there were logical reasons for doing it in certain matchups, such as having an extra defender on the field to man-mark an LAFC attacker in El Trafico clashes, ultimately moving Araujo back and forth between midfield and defense somewhat halted the youngster’s progress. On top of that, on a terrible LA Galaxy team in 2020, Araujo showed some signs of ill discipline in picking up two red cards in a shortened season, and that was rather worrisome.

But he basically completely turned the page on that, and was a new man in 2021. A fixture at right back, only missing two games due to suspension (one a carry-over from the previous season), Araujo thrived under Greg Vanney and not only led the team in minutes played, he led the team in assists and was a dependable two-way presence at right back all season long.

Here are Araujo’s stats in 2021 with LA:

Julian Araujo 2021 LA Galaxy Statistics

2021 Games Played Games Started Minutes Goals Assists Shots SOG Yellow Cards Red Cards
2021 Games Played Games Started Minutes Goals Assists Shots SOG Yellow Cards Red Cards
MLS 32 32 2,797 0 7 14 1 8 0

I don’t think it’s a surprise that a promising young player can get better when the conditions surrounding him improve, but I think it’s also a credit to Araujo himself. We’ve seen promising players flicker and then burn out quickly, but he didn’t just make a step up, he’s coming for the title of best right back in MLS, and beyond.

For example, in looking at Araujo’s advanced stats on FBref.com, compared to all other fullbacks in MLS, he’s elite in nearly every category except scoring goals.

An elite fullback defender who can also pick up playmaking duties from out wide? Sounds fantastic. And he really was, his MLS All-Star selection midseason was one of the most obvious honors around the league in 2021.

On top of all of this, Araujo continues to give back to his native Lompoc, looking out for the interests of folks in his community in various ways, and he genuinely seems to understand his roots and how he knows opportunities like the ones he’s gotten aren’t given to everyone. It’s going to be interesting to see how he maintains those connections once he moves further afield in his career, but I don’t think he’s going to forget where he’s come from.

Obviously, the quiet story of the season ended up being Araujo’s international future. Unlike Alvarez, who was basically hounded in the press for years until he chose to represent Mexico, Araujo, who unlike Alvarez had represented the United States at youth level, said early in 2021 he didn’t want to worry about his international future, that he wanted to get right with his club first and then figure the rest out, and he did just that. I don’t know at what point he decided to switch allegiance to Mexico, but he got called in to his first camp in December for an off-window friendly, made his debut and got rave reviews, and now he’s been called up for World Cup qualifiers this week. There’s no guarantee he’ll glide to 100 caps for El Tri, but he’s off to a good start and if he can make waves (in a good way) in competitive action, his profile is going to soar.

Given the competition at right back in the U.S. pool, moving to Mexico perhaps made sense on several levels for Araujo, and in the long run, may help his cause of moving to Europe. He’s been linked with some big clubs in the past, and if he can put together another terrific season in 2022, he could be gone in a matter of months. At the very least, if he doesn’t attract the right bid in Europe, there’s always the “fallback” option for him and the Galaxy of moving to Liga MX in the future. All things considered, that could turn out to be a good backup plan.

So I think ultimately, we’re probably entering the final stretch of Araujo with the Galaxy, if he continues to work hard and grow his game. This is the ideal scenario when signing a Homegrown player, giving him ample playing time, seeing the player grow and thrive, and then moving on to pastures new. Enjoy him while you can, because Araujo seems to have a very bright future ahead of him.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.