Photo Courtesy of LA Galaxy

Galaxy’s Araujo continues to earn high marks

Julian Araujo continues his education at right-back. And opponents may want to study up!

There is so much to like about LA Galaxy right back Julian Araujo, not that anyone ever doubted the talented native of Lompoc.

He turns only 20 in mid-August, and he’s already earned his spot among Major League Soccer’s best players at his position. The Galaxy thought enough of Araujo to recently reward him with a multi-year contract extension through the 2025 season, although chances are slim he’ll fulfill the length of the deal, considering some of the biggest clubs in Europe reportedly have him on their radar.

He also happens to lead the team in assists with six, including two in Friday’s 4-1 victory over the visiting Portland Timbers in front of a Dignity Health Sports Crowd of 15,644, but his best is yet to come. So said veteran Sacha Kljestan, who’s been around long enough to know a thing or two about promising players.

“He’s still developing, which is the great part,” the 35-year-old midfielder said. “I’m happy he signed a new contract, and hopefully he’ll be here for the next couple of years as he continues to get better.

“Julian will tell you this, I tell him this all the time … he’s not the finished product yet, and he has to keep getting better in the final third.”

He definitely was pretty good in that part of the field Friday. His first assist came on a beautiful cross to Victor Vazquez, who scored on a header just inside the penalty spot in the 34th minute for a 2-1 lead. His second assist, on another cross, was headed into the net in the 56th minute by Samuel Grandsir and closed out the scoring. It was Grandsir’s first goal in a Galaxy uniform.

Araujo, playing with what Galaxy head coach Greg Vanney said was “an ankle issue,” won a possession battle with Portland defender Josecarlos Van Ranken on the latter play, headed toward the end line and lofted a perfect pass to an unmarked Grandsir, who was closing in on the net at the far post and scored easily.

“Once the guy lost the ball on the tackle I was going to be calm on the ball and just try to get as close to the end line as possible,” Araujo said. “I saw the right-back was coming inside and all the defenders were coming towards me.

“Sam’s not that tall so I could barely see him,” he continued with a smile about his 5-foot-7 teammate, “but I could see his two hands up in the air and I just dinked it over the top. I knew obviously the back post was going to be open, so I just tried to get it to him.”

His two crosses from deep in Portland territory were just what Vanney has been looking for.

“Today I thought his willingness to get to the end line … one of the things we’ve talked about is not settling for the cross from 15, 16, 17 yards out,” Vanney explained. “But actually going that last 17 yards, 10 yards, five yards to get to the end line to open up better crossing situations, not just for him but the guys who are trying to attack it.

“Today he really drove to the end line and he opens two great balls for us.”

Araujo clearly has taken Vanney’s advice to heart.

“I know Greg has always asked me to get to the end line and cut back crosses,” he said. “We’ve actually worked on dinking it to the back post. Tonight I was just very confident going forward and I was going at the left-back as much as possible and let him know I was going to be there.”

Araujo, in his third season with the Galaxy, said he’s starting to see the game differently.

“I definitely do think so,” he said. “Greg makes it very clear, a lot of the veteran guys make it very clear, on where I need to be in certain situations. I’m starting to get more comfortable in my role.

“Last year I played right-back, right-wing. This year I’m consistently playing right back and I’m thankful that I’m just playing every game and learning every game.

“I definitely feel more comfortable,” he went on. “I feel like I’m starting to learn my role and letting the game come to me and not really rushing into things and just staying engaged for the full 90 minutes.”