CARSON, Calif. – League-wide attention might flow Zlatan Ibrahimovic's way, for good reason, but the most important figure on the LA Galaxy is arguably Jonathan dos Santos – and his remarkable form has much to do with their fine start to the 2019 season.
The Mexican midfielder serves as LA's engine, winning balls, dictating pace and connecting the dots for a Western Conference team playing its best attacking soccer since the Bruce Arena days.
He's been vital in a deep-lying role since arriving from Spain two summers ago, but he's raised his game – and the Galaxy theirs – in new head coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto's system. That’s also partially because of the arrival of Joe Corona.
Just ask Zlatan.
“Jona is always good,” the Swedish striker said after the Galaxy's training session Wednesday. “I think Corona is, how do you say, a complement for the midfield. It [gives] more time, more space for Jona to play like Jona plays now. And I think every game he plays, he plays good.”
Dos Santos was a bright spot for the Galaxy as they limped to a rock-bottom finish in 2017 and again missed the playoffs after a frantic final push in 2018. At the team's core is his work rate, technical acuity, defensive tenacity, vision and ability to create space and opportunities for teammates.
Corona, acquired from from Club Tijuana shortly after the 2019 season began, is letting Dos Santos thrive, Schelotto said. It’s also helped that they’ve naturally fit in alongside US national team midfielder Sebastian Lletget.
“I think with Joe, he feels more comfortable on the field and with more confidence,” Schelotto said. “They can understand each other, [along with] Lletget. They can understand on the field like they play together their whole life.”
Dos Santos, he said, “is in a good moment now.” For the Mexican midfielder, the partnerships in midfield are natural and have a logical explanation.
“We have a good relationship outside the field, and it's very important at the end of the day, because you can notice it on the field every time we pass the ball,” dos Santos said. “If I pass it to him between three players, I know that he won't lose it – him nor Sebastian. They are both great players, and I am very happy to share a dressing room and a field with them both.”
A major driver behind that dynamic is Schelotto’s system, which is akin to the 4-2-3-1 formation they've used since Arena departed as the US sought to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.
As that takes root, dos Santos is not shy about his goals for the 2019 season. He came to LA to win.
“To be a champion [is what I want this year],” said dos Santos, who recently scored his first international goal for Mexico. “The first goal is, obviously, to clinch a playoff spot, which is the most important, but yes, we have to be champions. I think this year we will be able to reap the benefits of hard work, and I am greatly looking forward to being able to enjoy and lift a championship and make our fans happy, which I think they deserve after going through hard times with the team.
“Hopefully, things will work out that way.”