CARSON, Calif. – The LA Galaxy’s starting lineup in Friday’s showdown against Los Angeles FC at Dignity Health Sports Park featured the usual cast of characters in their customary positions. But there was one notable exception.
Julian Araujo, the 17-year-old wunderkind, was at right midfield, a position that may have appeared unusual to the enthusiastic, sellout crowd of 27,088 but apparently was old hat to the Lompoc native.
“I haven’t played the position since AYSO,” he told reporters after the Galaxy’s 3-2 victory over their crosstown rival. “But now playing it, the first time in the pros, I just went out there and did whatever I could and whatever the coach asked of me.
“I just gave it my all and helped the team get a victory.”
Araujo, who also drifted back to cover for right-back Rolf Feltscher during the latter’s ventures forward, looked right at home despite facing some of Major League Soccer’s most dangerous wingers, including the likes of league-leading scorer Carlos Vela, Diego Rossi and Latif Blessing.
Araujo even assisted on the first of Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s three goals and kept the five-time MLS Cup champions unbeaten (2-0-2) in the fledgling series.
Galaxy head coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto said he was aware Araujo had some midfield experience before the youngster joined Los Angeles in early March.
“He played there (midfield) because you know the trainers, during the day, during the week, they talked with the player, and I know before he came to the Galaxy he used to play in that position, like a wing,” he explained. “When he got here he started to play like a defender. But I think I understand that he can play a little higher, a little more back.
“On the field, he can feel comfortable higher or like a right back. Sometimes we talk to Uriel (Antuna) and (assistant coach) Dominic (Kinnear) that he’s so fast.
“He’s 17,” Schelotto went on, “but he looks like a professional. He’s a man.”
Araujo, who turns 18 next month, also got his first taste of the LA derby and found it was everything he thought it would be. He said he remembers watching the first-ever meeting between the teams last season, when Ibrahimovic enjoyed one of the momentous debuts in MLS history in the Galaxy’s come-from-behind, 4-3 victory and had a feeling he was in for a similar show when he arrived at Dignity Health Sports Park.
“It was actually super crazy,” he said. “The environment, the fans, the players were super hyped to be here. I knew everybody was on good vibes.
“Everybody wanted to be a part of the win. That was our goal coming into the game, and we did what we could. It was a good feeling.”
He also took great pride in assisting Ibrahimovic, who now has 16 goals and recorded his first hat trick of the season and first since July 29, 2018 against Orlando City.
“It’s crazy,” Araujo said of watching the Swedish standout. “I can’t even explain it to you. Watching him on TV as a kid and seeing all the great goals he scored and now being a part of that and giving him an assist and him scoring a great goal, it’s an unbelievable feeling.”