Scoring his first goal for his new team, and in a heated rivalry game no less, wasn’t just a pleasant experience for the LA Galaxy’s João Pedro.
It also was a chance to prove a lot of people wrong.
“I am happy, I’m so happy,” Pedro told reporters after last Saturday’s 4-2 victory over the San Jose Earthquakes at Avaya Stadium. “It was my first goal after a few attempts and some posts and things like that, so I am very happy and happy for the three points.”
But the 23-year old Portuguese midfielder might not always have been so happy with his move to the Galaxy.
Pedro joined the team from Vitória Guimarães – a top-flight team in Portugal – earlier this year for a reported transfer fee of close to $1.5 million. It was a large sum for a young, somewhat unproven midfielder who’d never played outside of his home country. But in a lot of ways, it was indicative of the type of signing the Galaxy front office wanted to make – young and more long-term than simply renting a Euro star.
“Everybody has been very critical of him [Pedro]… probably a little bit unfairly.” Curt Onalfo, LA Galaxy Head Coach
Pedro immediately was slotted in behind midfielder Jermaine Jones in the center of the field and was given the difficult task of adjusting to the more physical Major League Soccer. He also was attempting to create chemistry with a player who is more or less known for being a bad partner.
“In Portugal, the league is more tactical, more slow,” Pedro said with more confidence after his in-game success. “Here is more intense and with much more pace and physical, so that was the big difference.”
The early season result? Pedro struggled in his first 8 1/2 games. He failed to track attacking players through the midfield, was completely disconnected from Jones and made bad passes and turnovers that led to dangerous attacking chances for the opposition. Many observers acknowledged Jones likely was the reason for Pedro’s ineffectiveness, but they also concluded if the Galaxy couldn’t find a way to make him comfortable in his new role he’d have to be benched.
“We have to have haters to improve.” João Pedro, LA Galaxy Midfielder
But then Jones was injured just before halftime in a recent game against the Chicago Fire. His replacement, Baggio Husidic, immediately stuck to the hip of Pedro and created an anchor for the midfielder. This allowed Pedro to wax and wane forward when the situations fit, instead of just being a defensive backstop to someone who roamed wildly and left the midfield exposed.
“When I have Baggio on my side the team is more balanced and secure,” Pedro said after the Galaxy’s 2-2 draw with Chicago. “And I can go more high [sic] on the field. That’s what I like more.
“With Baggio it’s different. Baggio stays more on my side and it’s more easy for me to defend and to help the team to defend. And when we attack, we always have the balance and are in the right position to make a good attack and a secure one.”
The numbers speak for themselves. Since Jones went off injured, the Galaxy have scored 11 goals in 3 ½ games. They’ve gone unbeaten in five games and have a three-game win streak with all of the wins away from StubHub Center. The midfield has perked up – despite losing Husidic to a broken leg – and it all culminated in Pedro hitting multiple posts, a crossbar or two and finally scoring in Saturday night’s California Clasico in a hostile road environment.
“I thought he was good from day one,” Galaxy head coach Curt Onalfo told reporters after the game. “Everybody has been very critical of him … probably a little bit unfairly. [He’s a] New player coming into the league. He had a good day.”
Onalfo may have been alone with that thought – at least from the beginning. But it makes the turnaround in the last 150-plus minutes all that more interesting. Pedro is proving to be the player the Galaxy needed and wanted. And he could, in fact, be that long-term solution they’ve been missing since Juninho departed the Galaxy after the 2015 season.
But for Pedro, he’s not worried about the criticism. In fact, he doesn’t know anything about you or your blog.
“Honestly I don’t read blogs or anything people say, I just focus on my work,” Pedro confessed Saturday. “Soccer players are always under a lot of pressure and a lot of critics. We can’t be good to everyone. We have to have haters to improve.”
Regardless, the Galaxy and those so-called “haters” now are seeing a more comfortable João Pedro on the field. And that can only help this team as it moves forward.
The Galaxy and Pedro will travel to Washington, D.C. to take on D.C. United on Saturday in the fourth and final game of their four-game road swing. The game will kick off at 3 p.m. PT (Spectrum SportsNet, SpectrumDeportes).