CARSON, Calif. – The timing couldn’t be better for the return of LA Galaxy duo Jonathan dos Santos and Uriel Antuna.
The midfielders are back just in time for two of the club’s biggest games of the season, starting with Friday’s California Clasico rematch with the visiting San Jose Earthquakes at Dignity Health Sports Park (8 p.m., Univision, UniMas) and continuing with next Friday’s much-anticipated showdown at home with crosstown rival Los Angeles FC.
“I’m very happy. I was looking forward to being back with the team,” dos Santos said Wednesday. “I missed the locker room, the atmosphere and we know we have a very important game Friday against San Jose and we must win it.
“I think the team has a good dynamic going and hopefully we’ll secure the three points this Friday.”
Dos Santos and Antuna return with their confidence high following their efforts in the Gold Cup, which featured dos Santos scoring the winning goal in a 1-0 victory over the United States in last Sunday’s final in Chicago. Antuna, a late addition to Mexico’s roster, finished the tournament with four goals, including three in a 7-0 romp over Cuba.
“Incredible performance for his age (21),” dos Santos said of his teammate. “He was a player that was almost left out of the Gold Cup, and in the end, he was there, and he took advantage of the opportunity. We were happy for him because in the end, it’s great for the club.
“The confidence he gained there he will bring back to the team.”
Mission accomplished, Antuna said.
“I feel very good, with a lot more confidence,” he said. “It’s going to help me to continue to grow and continue to have more confidence to ultimately be able to help the team.”
Dos Santos called the Gold Cup experience “spectacular.”
“In every aspect,” he said. “It was an unforgettable experience for me, for my family, for the national team. And thanks to God, I was able to score.
“It was a very important moment for me and my career, and I think it’s one for the books.”
A STAR IS BORN
Count the Galaxy’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic among the biggest fans of one of the team’s youngest players, Efrain Alvarez.
Ibrahimovic, regarded as a pretty fair player in his own right, knows a special talent when he sees it, and he definitely sees it in the 17-year-old whiz kid who got his first professional start last Thursday and assisted on one of Ibrahimovic’s two goals in a 2-0 win over Toronto FC.
“I said last game he’s ready,” Ibrahimovic told reporters. “He’s dominating in training. The only thing he didn’t get too much of is game time, but he showed in the last game who he is.
“He’s not afraid to take the initiative or take action. He has a lot of confidence. Mistakes come, but we all make mistakes. He’s growing every day, but for me he’s ready.”
The 5-foot-8, 150-pounder from Los Angeles is a natural, Ibrahimovic added.
“You have players that play football, and you have players that think football. He’s a player that thinks football, and they’re the better players,” Ibrahimovic said. “The guys that play football are trained to play football. The guys that think football are made to play football. That’s a big difference.
“The first time I saw him last year I told him, ‘You need to lose five kilos before you come back,’ ” he went on with a grin. “He came back losing that, and he was a totally different player.”
Central defender Giancarlo Gonzalez said he can’t get over the rise in stature of Major League Soccer.
The Costa Rican played with the Columbus Crew in 2014 but then left for Italian side Palermo, followed by another stop in Italy with Bologna before joining the Galaxy in mid-April.
“It’s completely different,” he said of the current version of MLS compared to the one he witnessed five years ago. “New teams have joined, and every team is competitive. Everyone wants to be the best, and that makes for a healthy competition between all of the clubs and makes the league continue to grow.
“There are so many players who want to come here because of the quality of the league and the level of play. In the last five years you’ve seen that.”
The 31-year-old has started six of the last eight matches – his only misses were because of national-team duties in the just-concluded Gold Cup – and said parity is what makes MLS a potential destination to overseas players.
“It’s very attractive because of that,” he said. “All teams have great players, and that makes for everyone being competitive with each other. Anyone can beat anyone, and that’s not the case in other leagues around the world.”
Gonzalez also said he’s not surprised at MLS’ improvement since his last stint stateside.
“I know the way people around the league work,” he said, “and they want to make MLS one of the best leagues in the world. I think the growth in the last five years reflects that.
“It’s great for the players, and I have no doubt that one day it will be one of the best leagues in the world.”