Members of the media, take note: Julian Araujo would prefer not to talk about the big choice ahead of him.
Not the one regarding his international allegiance, at least. The LA Galaxy’s talented young fullback is eligible to represent both Mexico and the United States, has spent time with both programs and doesn’t have to commit to one or the other until a competitive fixture rolls around that could cap-tie him.
Despite repeated questions about the topic in a press conference on Monday, Araujo steadfastly stuck to the immediate matter at hand: Wednesday night’s US friendly at Inter Miami CF Stadium in Fort Lauderdale, Florida (7:30 pm ET | ESPN News, UniMas, TUDN), the highlight of this month’s US men’s national team camp.
“I'm just focused right now with the US and the game against El Salvador,” said Araujo. “Obviously it's a tough decision, and it's something that is really hard for me, but I don't think about it too much and right now I'm just focused and I just want to grow as a player and continue to get better each and every day.”
It’s understandable. Still just 19, Araujo has plenty of work ahead of him to make the most of his rich potential at both the club and international levels. He and his Galaxy teammates face the prospect of a new coach and quite possibly other changes this offseason, and he’ll have fierce competition for playing time whichever nation he winds up with.
Still, he’s made admirable progress just to reach this point, and even the possibility of a senior international debut this week is a tribute to his and his family’s hard work and resilience. Born and raised in Lompoc, California, Araujo is the child of farm workers, a community he has gone to some lengths to support and salute during this difficult times.
His parents Jorge and Lupe emigrated to the United States from Mexico with scant English skills and even less in their pockets, carving out a life for themselves in spite of great adversity and setting Julian on a path to soccer success. He himself left home as an adolescent to join the Barça Residency Academy in Arizona before making his way back to SoCal, spending time in the Galaxy academy but not meeting Homegrown Player requirements, thus necessitating his signing via the waiver process.
His backstory should help explain why he feels connected to both countries, and why USMNT fans should celebrate him even if his future takes him to El Tri.
“My parents would definitely be super happy if I get the chance to show myself,” Araujo said this week. “It's always been a goal of mine to play at the international level. And for them just to see me play with the US would be something for me to check off on my dreams – it’s one of my goals.
“I always want to just try to make them proud and happy and give them back what they deserve, because throughout my whole life and my career they've given me everything to get to this point.”
US coach Gregg Berhalter already has solid options like Sergino Dest and Reggie Cannon at right back, Araujo’s preferred spot. But with a frenetic 2021 on tap, he’s made a concerted pitch to Araujo with an eye toward both the senior squad and the Under-23 Olympic team as well as the longer-term future, mindful of the youngster’s character and enormous upside.
“Julian's an example of a guy that that you want on your team,” said Berhalter on Tuesday. “He's a guy that goes out and puts everything on the line every time he's playing, and that's what we like about him. We see him as a fullback, and we want our fullbacks attacking, we want them to be aggressive. So I think he fits right into what we do. But we've been really excited about Julian, we really like his game, and we think it will translate well into what we do.”
Araujo played at center back earlier in his career and has occasionally been pressed into duty in a more advanced right wing role for the Galaxy, hinting at versatility that could make him particularly attractive in the limited-roster situations like the Olympics and hectic World Cup qualifying windows.
Could the unique challenges of 2021 fast-track him into the plans of Berhalter or his Mexico counterpart Tata Martino? For now, Araujo wants to keep working and learning and let that process take shape.
“Gregg is someone that likes things very specific and it's very good for the style of play that he wants us to play. I've learned a lot,” he said. “The national team has given me confidence – last year’s January camp going into the season, it gave me a lot of confidence in just being able to be myself and just working on things that I know I needed to work on.
“It's been a good camp so far. I've learned things that I didn't learn in January, but I'm thankful for that as well.”