CARSON, Calif. – There are those who say the LA Galaxy are playing with fire, with seven key performers unavailable because of national team duties or injuries.
The five-time MLS Cup champions, however, may be in good hands, thanks to two of Major League Soccer’s youngest players.
One of them is Efrain Alvarez, who turned 17 last month and assisted on one of Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s two goals in Thursday’s 2-0 victory over Toronto FC in front of a sellout crowd of 25,482 at Dignity Health Sports Park. The youngster from Los Angeles frequently has dazzled viewers with his skills and added to his resume with another superb performance in the Galaxy’s 11th win over the season.
But there is another 17-year-old who has been impressive as well. Lompoc native and Galaxy academy product Julian Araujo, who signed with the parent club on March 1, looks right at home at right back and could make it difficult for veteran Rolf Feltscher to reclaim his spot in the starting lineup.
The soft-spoken Araujo said that is what he has been pointing to all along since training camp. He made his first appearance as a professional with a five-minute stint in a 3-2 win over Minnesota United on March 16.
“Obviously that’s my goal,” he said of starting. “To keep the position and keep my starting spot.
“He (Feltscher) is a little injured now, and I hope he gets back. If it’s him that’s starting, whatever helps the team out more is what matters.”
The 5-foot-10, 154-pounder appears to be a special talent. He became the youngest player named to the U.S. men’s team for last November’s CONCACAF U-20 championship and was added to the United States’ U-20 World Cup roster when forward Ayo Akinola was lost to an ankle injury. Araujo, however, saw no action in the recent competition in Poland.
But he has seen plenty of action with the Galaxy, with eight appearances and six starts. He said his confidence is growing and doesn’t feel out of place at all.
“I definitely do,” he said when asked if he’s feeling more comfortable as a professional. “My whole life, I’ve been playing with older guys, and I feel like this is just another stepping stone.
“I feel like I’m doing well, and this is where I’m supposed to be.”
Araujo admitted he couldn’t ask for more, especially with Galaxy head coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto asking so much from his young players and getting such commendable efforts in return.
“It’s a blessing being a young guy and getting starts and knowing the coach has trust in not only me but other young guys,” he said. “There’s not much more you can ask for.”
There is one facet of his game he will take painstaking efforts to avoid, he went on.
“I never want to get comfortable,” he said. “I always want to keep going, and I want to learn, and I want to do what I have to do to be better.
“There’s never going to be a point where I get comfortable.”