It's impossible to deny at this point. Dejan Joveljić deserves to be a starter for the LA Galaxy. Speaking honestly, only a handful of Galaxy players have been at a high level consistently throughout the start of the season. One of those players is a 22-year-old striker who has done everything he can, and then some, to earn his way into the Starting XI.
On the surface, it sounds so simple. The key to winning matches in soccer, for the most part, is scoring goals. So it makes sense to start a guy who seems to score every time he touches the pitch, whether for five minutes or longer. Stats aside, just using the eye test will tell you the Galaxy attack is far more threatening when No. 99 is out there.
So why hasn't he broken through into the starting lineup? Well, there are two reasons for that, and while one reason is fairly obvious — the person who starts at his position is one of the best in the league — the biggest reason is actually down to tactics and philosophy.
Without getting too in the weeds, when it comes to strikers there are two general philosophies. The ‘old-school’ way of thinking is where you favor two strikers up front. Usually in a 4-4-2, it’s a style of play that tends to focus centrally, with the strikers playing more in the center of the pitch. It’s a straightforward, ‘run it down your throat’ type of play that has phased out of the game in the current era. These days, as is the case with Greg Vanney and the Galaxy, coaches tend to prefer playing with just one central striker. Whether with a lone striker up top, or as part of a three-pronged attack with wingers/wide forwards on either side of the striker. The Galaxy under Vanney prefer to play with a lone striker up top, then having wingers play behind as opposed to alongside, though through the course of match action all formations become incredibly fluid.
This is where Joveljić suffers the most. With the system set up for just one striker, the only way he gets into the XI is by being the best on the team, and unfortunately, he just isn't.
That would be reason number two, Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez. One of the best strikers in all of MLS and a player who has had a great start to the season as well, and you'd honestly be a fool to bench a healthy Chicharito.
Joveljić knows this too, acknowledging it after another good performance a few weeks ago. “I know in my position is the best striker in the league [Chicharito], so I know I’ll get [fewer] minutes” he said. “I need to wait for my chance, and tonight I showed I need to get more minutes, more than five.”
Playing two central strikers up top isn't a foreign concept for Vanney either, we already saw it once this season when the team faced Cal United Strikers in their U.S. Open Cup match. That match finished in a 3-2 win for the G’z and while they were both penalties, Joveljić scored a brace that match. It's hard to use that match as a sample as the squad was heavily rotated, with most of the Galaxy’s ‘regular starters’ either coming off the bench or not playing at all. It was however, proof of concept. A glimpse at what could be.
"Bring some energy & score some goals"— LA Galaxy (@LAGalaxy) May 30, 2022
Mission accomplished from Dejan ✅ pic.twitter.com/s9meQ0vlTY
This is our call to see it more, at least a couple efforts. Surely having both Chicharito and Joveljić starting a match isn't a bad thing, right?
Well, this is the part people don't like talking about. The counterpoint here is the very real possibility that he is one of those players who just does better off the bench. A super sub, as we’ve heard it called so many times before. If we’re being completely fair, the one time Dejan got the starting nod in MLS regular season action, was against the Houston Dynamo in a 0-3 blowout loss at home. A match he didn't really make noise in. Now, that's just one match so it’s completely unfair to draw a conclusion from that, but it is all we have at the moment. As it is, Joveljić is on fire coming off the bench. Think of like this, Joveljić coming off the bench after a defense has already spent much energy trying to chase and stop a very active Chicharito, have to deal with a 22-year-old who is not only fresh, but looking to prove his worth with every second he gets on the pitch. It should be illegal with how unfair that is, so why ruin it?
That’s the balance Vanney has to contend with. Dejan has worked incredibly hard and done well this month so I’m sure the team wants to reward that. We see it in his rise in minutes from five, to a very solid 15-25 the last couple of matches. It’s tough, and a reason why we don't envy Vanney one bit in this regard. It's so simple to say, Dejan Joveljić should be in the starting XI, and he should. There’s just so much more context that needs to be considered. Whether he starts more, gets more consistent minutes, or whichever the case, let’s all hope he just continues his great run of form and impressive improvement. He's one this team will need, hopefully for many years to come.
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