Voices: Bradley Wright-Phillips

What makes LA Galaxy's Dejan Joveljic a Golden Boot contender?


The best thing that could have happened to Dejan Joveljic’s MLS career was Chicharito leaving the LA Galaxy.

That’s no disrespect to Chicharito – he’s a legend for his country and played for some of the world’s biggest clubs. But the Galaxy made a business decision last November, signaling a new era.

That opened a door for Joveljic, LA's 24-year-old Serbian striker who had always shown in bursts that he could score and be dangerous around the box. He's one of those out-and-out strikers. He might not do much more, but he knows how to finish. He just never really got that consistent opportunity in Greg Vanney’s system. It was stops and starts, even when he came off the bench and scored for fun these past few seasons.

Here’s the thing: When you have a big-name player like Chicharito in front of you, 99% of the time, even if you play well and score, you're not starting the next game unless the coach changes things tactically. LA tried that at times, going with two strikers instead of one striker with two wingers, but it didn’t stick. They preferred the 4-3-3. It can almost be demoralizing when you’re playing that waiting game. You get a chance to show the coach and fans what you can do, and you perform, but you just keep biding your time.

Well, that time is now for Joveljic. And he’s seized it.

Heading into Saturday’s game vs. the Seattle Sounders (10:30 pm ET | MLS Season Pass), Joveljic has five goals. That’s tied with Lewis Morgan of the New York Red Bulls for the Golden Boot lead, and this weekend he can eclipse Brian McBride’s long-standing record of scoring in five straight games to start a season. That tells me if you play this man and he has the right service, he's a one-in-two striker. The proof's in the pudding, as they say.

Complete skillset

As I’ve thought more about what makes Joveljic unique, I keep returning to the timing of his movement. It's making non-stop runs, it’s being on the blind side of center backs, it's taking a gamble on balls that drop in and around the box. It does look simple, but being in the right spots isn’t easy. Then when you do get your chances, it’s being clinical.

I'm torn between whether you can teach that, if it’s second nature, or if it’s built through experience. As a player, I was always gambling. I was always thinking ‘I'll get on this chance.’ Even now, when I work with some young players, I try to stress that part of the game to them because I think it's more important than having a good touch. You could have 20 good touches and hold up the ball, but no end product. You can take on a player 12 times and create danger, but not get onto a cross.

What I do know, though, is that Joveljic was born with it. Ever since I've seen him in this league, he's always got chances. He's always made smart runs. It always just comes down to his finish, or are the No. 10 and the wingers finding him? He's one of those players with a natural feel for sniffing out chances around the 18-yard box. He just has it.

Of course, a huge part is who Joveljic is playing with now. On the right, you’ve got a dangerous player in Joseph Paintsil who gets behind. On the left, you have a player in Gabriel Pec who's known for assists and creativity. And then in Riqui Puig, you’ve got one of the best No. 10s in the league who can find and pick out a pass.

As a striker, you don’t go out there thinking you need a goal. You think you need a chance. Then it's on you, right? Joveljic has that chance-creation in three different players – and that's not even including set pieces and everything else. He just has that from open play. So he must be walking onto the field feeling like a giant. I know I would.

The acquisitions LA Galaxy made this winter in Paintsil and Pec have brought that team to another level, and I think at the end of most of their plays, you'll be saying Joveljic's name. It's a great position for a No. 9 to be in, especially one like him who’s not so interested in an all-around game. He's interested in the final play. It must be a dream.

Ruthless mentality

One example of this: Joveljic got a goal last weekend at Kansas City that was called back for offside. Tough luck, right? Maybe, but it was basically a carbon copy of the goal that later brought them level at 2-2. Gastón Brugman played the ball to Riqui Puig in the pocket and as soon as Riqui Puig received his ball, Joveljic was already on the defender’s back. They got the timing a little off; either he went too early or the pass was slightly late. Then only a minute later, we see the same play, they time it a bit better and Joveljic scores. That’s a ruthless striker with a short memory. That’s what Galaxy needed.

Where might this all end up? I think if Pec, Puig and Paintsil stay fit, Joveljic will get 15-20 goals this year. No problem. He's got to feel confident about his Golden Boot chances and I see him as a threat for Cucho Hernández and Giorgos Giakoumakis. If I'm him it’s, ‘Yeah, why not me?’

Also, as an Englishman, the first team I had heard of from MLS was the Galaxy, all the success they had. So it's refreshing to watch games on the weekend and see they're again a team to be reckoned with. They're a team you have to take seriously. For the last few years, they've been a team we've almost laughed at. You can't do that anymore. They maybe don’t have their normal stars, their galacticos, but these younger players have hunger and want to make a name for themselves. They’re on the right track, going into any stadium right now and thinking they can win.

I’ll close with this: My guy Sacha Kljestan played with Joveljic at LA, and he’s always been high on his ability. It was ‘He'll get a goal today’ or ‘This guy thinks he will end up in a Golden Boot race.’ It was always how if he's given chances, if he's given minutes, he'll get you goals. I see why.