Voices: Joseph Lowery

What Julián Araujo brings FC Barcelona & what his transfer means for LA Galaxy


"My head and my vision is to go to Europe," Julián Araujo said last year.

Mission accomplished. But it wasn’t easy.

After more than two weeks of limbo caused by an 18-second delay that took the initial deal past the January transfer window deadline, the 21-year-old right back has now officially moved to FC Barcelona. The deal nets the LA Galaxy a reported $4 million transfer fee (club-record total).

Now, because Araujo’s move comes after the LaLiga deadline, he won’t be registered to play until the next transfer window opens in the summer. Still, Araujo will apparently train with Barcelona B before moving up to the first team, according to Barcelona B manager Rafa Márquez.

Even with all of the red tape, it’s a massive, "once in a lifetime opportunity" for Araujo, as his former Galaxy teammate Sacha Kljestan said on Twitter, to sign with one of the biggest clubs in the world. It’s also a valuable deal for the Galaxy, who earn a lucrative transfer and open up a U22 Initiative roster slot.

So, what will Araujo bring to the table in Spain? Why did FC Barcelona want to sign him? Oh, and what’s next for the LA Galaxy?

Let’s dive in and answer those questions.

Who is Julián Araujo?

Araujo can play in multiple positions on the right side of the backline. During his time with the Galaxy, he has been used as a right back in a back four and as a right wingback in a back five. Before current manager Greg Vanney arrived in Los Angeles, Araujo was even used as a right winger, although that’s not his best position.

Araujo is also a Mexican international and has made three appearances for El Tri. Before getting his first cap under then-manager Tata Martino, the young defender played one game for the US men’s national team – a friendly against El Salvador in December 2020. Ultimately, he filed a one-time switch of association to play for Mexico.

At club level, Araujo made his LA Galaxy debut in 2019. He became a regular starter for the team in 2020 and quickly became a well-known player in MLS (two-time All-Star), moving up and down the right side of the field and breaking up opposing attacks.

How does he play?

Despite having plenty of experience attacking down the right side, Araujo is at his best in a defense-first role. He is an aggressive, forceful defender who often thrives in 1-v-1 situations. According to American Soccer Analysis’ goals added metric, Araujo created more value with his interrupting (which includes actions like tackles, blocks, interceptions, recoveries and headers) than he did with any other part of his game in 2022.

While he’s not a flawless defender, he displayed plenty of impressive moments during his time in MLS. Take this sequence from the Galaxy’s game against Lorenzo Insigne and Toronto FC from August 2022 as an example.

As the Italian international receives the ball out on the left wing, Araujo steps out to close him down. Knowing the ex-Napoli star wants to cut inside onto his right foot, Araujo shapes his body to shepherd his opponent down the wing. Insigne tries to find space, but can’t create any separation and Araujo eventually wins the ball near the corner flag.

Araujo brings plenty of effort and solid footwork to the table – and he also has elite speed. According to Second Spectrum, he was the 33rd fastest player in all of MLS last year based on top sustained speed, putting the young defender in the 95th percentile. That speed helps Araujo track back in defensive transition and burst up the wing in the attack.

In addition to his defensive ability and potential, Araujo has an excellent right foot.

He doesn’t typically tuck inside and combine in central areas, at least in part because that wasn’t his role in Vanney’s system in LA. But he can get forward and create chances in the final third. According to FBref, Araujo finished in the 82nd percentile in assists per 90 minutes and the 79th percentile in expected assisted goals per 90 among fullbacks in MLS in 2022. He also finished in the 80th percentile in crosses into the penalty area.

It’s those crosses that have helped Araujo become a standout player in MLS. Just look at this lovely ball from against Nashville SC in last year’s Audi MLS Cup Playoffs; it has the right amount of speed and bends to find Chicharito in the box for a shot attempt.

Here’s another one of Araujo’s inch-perfect crosses that connects with Chicharito, this time for a goal against Austin FC.

There’s room for Araujo to improve some of his work both on and off the ball, but there’s no denying his skill and potential.

Who does he compare to?

You can see bits and pieces of Araujo’s game in high-level fullbacks playing all over Europe. Still, one player who provides a useful point of comparison is Chelsea FC’s Reece James.

Though James is more likely to dribble at an opposing player 1-v-1, both have impressive top speeds, can play in several different spots on the right side, and have similar passing and chance creation numbers. James has also spent time as a right-sided center back in a back three at Chelsea, which is a role FC Barcelona’s new signing could thrive in as well. Araujo has yet to show he can change games in the same way as the England international, but many of their tendencies overlap.

If Araujo can develop a more dangerous on-ball presence outside of the final third – as James has done in the English Premier League – he will take that next step on the right side of the backline.

What’s next?

For Araujo, the answer is simple: train hard with Barcelona B and impress the FC Barcelona coaching staff ahead of registration in the summer. Hey, I said it was a simple answer. I didn’t say it was an easy thing for Araujo to check off his to-do list. It’s going to be challenging to get on the field with all of Barcelona’s talented defensive players, even after this lead-up time, but if Araujo works hard in training and spends time in the film room, he will continue to develop.

For Barcelona, there isn’t much to be done here. Araujo will be another arrow in Xavi’s arsenal next season ahead of UEFA Champions League games (most likely), the Copa del Rey, the LaLiga season, and whatever other matches are on Barcelona’s calendar next year. There won’t be pressure to get him on the field until he’s had time to fully adjust and grow in Barcelona’s system.

For the LA Galaxy, things are a little less clear.

Araujo was slated to be the team’s starting right back for the upcoming MLS regular season, which kicks off on Feb. 25. Kelvin Leerdam, who joined the team ahead of last season, is the only other natural right back in Vanney’s squad, but the 32-year-old wasn’t brought to Los Angeles to be a regular starter. Martín Cáceres has experience at the position, too, but he thrived centrally last year after joining late as a free agent.

The most logical path forward for the Galaxy is to identify a starting-caliber right back as early in the Primary Transfer Window as possible. That window stays open until April 24, and transfer sanctions stemming from the 2019 campaign mean LA can’t sign someone from abroad in the Secondary Transfer Window.

It will be fascinating to see how the Galaxy fill this newfound hole in their starting lineup – and how they take advantage of their added roster flexibility. Even as they search for a replacement, you can bet they’ll be watching Araujo closely in Spain, right along with the rest of us.