It was a no-brainer as far as Dejan Joveljic was concerned.
The Serbian forward had several offers to continue his playing career in Europe, but when the Galaxy showed interest in acquiring his services the 21-year-old couldn’t say no to the MLS club’s offer. His acquisition became official this week.
“This is a big club, and it’s my pleasure to be here and play with these guys,” he told reporters on Friday as the Galaxy continued preparations for Sunday’s match against the Vancouver Whitecaps at Dignity Health Sports Park (5 p.m., Spectrum SportsNet). “I’m very happy to be here.
“When I saw the LA Galaxy I was surprised, and it was not a tough decision. Many good players play here and now I’m here. I will do my best to score goals and win big things for this club.”
Joveljic, who signed a 4 1/2-year contract and watched the Galaxy’s 1-0 victory over Real Salt Lake on Wednesday, will occupy an MLS U-22 initiative spot and might even play Sunday, depending on how soon he can get his P-1 Visa and international transfer certificate.
He’s ready to go should the necessary paperwork be completed in time.
“Of course. I’m ready to score but I’m not sure if I can play,” he said. “I am still waiting for permission, but I will find out today. But I’m ready.”
Joveljic spent the 2020-21 season with Austrian Bundesliga side Wolfsberger AC, on loan from Eintracht Frankfurt, and had 20 goals and five assists in 46 games across all competitions. He also once was named to the 40-man shortlist for the 2018 Golden Boy Award, which is given to the best young player in Europe under the age of 21.
Galaxy head coach Greg Vanney raved about his skill set.
“He’s a finisher,” he said. “To be pretty frank, he’s got a lot of similar qualities to Javier (Hernandez). He’s a pure goal scorer, he’s thinking about his final runs, getting in the box, he’s tenacious about getting on the end of things. He had 18 goals in league play in Austria, also a couple in the UEFA league.
“He’s a young man with huge potential.”
Joveljic, an avid chess player who even brought a chess set with him on his flight to Southern California, said he can’t wait for the chance to play alongside Hernandez, currently sidelined with a strained calf. He called Hernandez an “inspiration.”
“It’s amazing to share the field with him,” Joveljic said. “I cannot wait. I miss him.”
The Serbian apparently did his homework on MLS, having spoken with former Chicago Fire assistant Marko Mitrovic about the league and the Galaxy, and Mitrovic couldn’t say enough good things about what’s ahead.
“I’ll be honest,” Joveljic said. “I didn’t know too much about MLS football. But I was following my former coach, Marko (Mitrovic). I asked him a lot of things about MLS and about this club and city.
“He told me all the best, of course, and I’m very satisfied.”
Vanney was asked about some of the challenges Joveljic will face in a new league.
“What you usually see with players coming over is the league can be a little more physical at times,” he said. “Referees might allow things to go. Players in Europe might stay in kind of their protected positions and choose their priorities wisely, whereas sometimes in MLS the defender is going to come tight, no matter what. You have to be ready to physically manage that situation. Play quick and or be strong on the ball.
“The other part of it is just getting used to the travel, the length of the travel, the different environments from playing at altitude to playing on turf to playing at 100 degrees. Whatever those variables are, it’s getting used to those.
“I think from a football perspective purely, he’ll find his way pretty quickly,” he added. “He’s got a good supporting cast around him.”
Vanney also talked about the impending arrival of another new player, defender Niko Hamalainen, who comes in on loan from English Championship side Queens Park Rangers for the rest of the regular season.
Hamalainen, 24, owns a U.S. passport (his father is Finnish but his mother is American) and once played three games for Los Angeles FC during the 2019 season while on loan from QPR. Vanney expected him to arrive in Southern California on Saturday and could see playing time next week.
Hamalainen’s addition was made out of necessity more than anything.
“I’ve been thinking we need a left-back because we’re kind of killing, unfortunately, (Jorge) Villafana every week,” he said of his 31-year-old veteran. “He’s having to play and grind and he’s not a young kid anymore. Game after game after game he’s been putting it out there.
“We’ve got a team trying to compete for a Supporters’ Shield and championship and we need to give Jorge some rest. That was a position we needed to find some depth in. We didn’t have an international spot which meant somebody with a green card or an American citizenship passport.
“That narrows your search down pretty quickly,” Vanney continued, “and there’s a young man with some experience in the league. He played some 25 or 30 games last year, some with his country and some with QPR. He wasn’t in the plans with the new coach and we’re excited about it.”
Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, who hasn’t played since late June because of a strained calf, probably will be inactive this weekend.
“He still just has to pass some more work really, do more on the field,” Vanney said. “He hasn’t done much on the field, so he’ll be unlikely for Sunday.”
Jonathan dos Santos, still mourning the recent loss of his father to complications from Covid-19 during the just-concluded Gold Cup, returned to training on Friday and will be available to play against Vancouver, Vanney said.
The picture is not quite as clear, however, on Victor Vazquez, who has a balky hamstring. The veteran midfielder worked out “for the majority of the day” on Friday, according to Vanney, and his status for this weekend will be determined by his reaction to the training activity.
Vancouver (3-7-6) enters Sunday’s game in last place in the Western Conference with 15 points and is winless on the road in eight matches (0-4-4), but the Whitecaps did beat the Galaxy 2-1 on July 17 in Sandy, Utah.
The Galaxy, on the other hand, are 10-6-1 for 31 points and just two points out of first place. Vanney agreed the impact of a result cannot be under-estimated, but the first thing he’ll be looking for is a strong, cohesive effort.
“For me, one of the important things for Sunday is performance,” he said. “We’re going to be adding some guys back in the group, from being away for a while. We’re starting to get some of our pairings, some of our relationships on the field that we want to see. We’ll have some of those guys available, maybe for the first time this season.
“The result is definitely important in terms of the table and what we’re trying to accomplish. But it’s also just the group coming together now, the first game of many that are in front of us that hopefully, we have a larger selection of the guys we think are going to play the majority of our minutes and the guys coming off the bench.
“We have more of our group coming together so we start the second half of the season with more options.”