CARSON, Calif. – The LA Galaxy have played better in their last 135 minutes than they have all season, erasing a 2-0 deficit to draw the Chicago Fire 2-2 on May 6 before smashing New York 3-1 at Red Bull Arena last Sunday.
A big reason for their recent turnaround has been the greatly improved play of offseason acquisition Joao Pedro, who is settling into life in Los Angeles and the league he now calls home.
“With time I am getting more comfortable in LA, in MLS and the kind of soccer the teams play here,” Joao Pedro said after practice on Wednesday. “Because in Portugal it was different. I have to get used to it, but in time it’ll get better.”
The win at New York, the club’s first since on the East coast since May 13, 2013, has spirits in Galaxy camp high. The victory was also LA’s first win of the 2017 campaign against a full-strength opponent, with their previous triumphs coming against a banged-up RSL side and a Montreal Impact team that was without Ignacio Piatti.
After the Galaxy’s 2-2 come from behind draw against the Fire, Joao Pedro described the team as feeling more balanced. That evening out coincided with an injury to central midfielder Jermaine Jones, which begat Joao Pedro's new partnership with central midfielder Baggio Husidic.
“I think the results talk for themselves,” said Joao Pedro. “I think we are doing a better job now, keeping the team balanced, so that way we can attack better too. The relationship is particularly good right now. We have to keep working on those kinds of things, relationship and chemistry, because it will help the team.”
The Galaxy will have some decisions to make when Jones returns from injury in June, as the team tries to work players into their natural positions. For Husidic, taking some of the defensive responsibility from Joao Pedro and letting him participate in the attack has been a big part of allowing the young midfielder to shine.
That tactic paid off against the Red Bulls, with Joao Pedro shaded slightly in front of Husidic, leaving him free to interact with the attack and allowing Giovani dos Santos to pick up the ball a bit higher on the field than in previous matches.
“I think Joao is naturally more of an 8, even though he was rooted as a No. 6.” said Husidic. “I think that gives him the confidence to move forward and have me organize the defensive side of it so not all the pressure is on him. I think moving forward with him he’s able to play to his strengths, play with the ball forward, and have the ball at his feet.”
Husidic, 29, is five years older than the 24-year-old Joao Pedro, a lifetime in soccer years, and in recent weeks he’s taken the Portuguese newcomer under his wing. Husidic will continue helping him along as they continue to work on their partnership, with LA hoping it’ll assist Joao Pedro – who was signed using Targeted Allocation Money this winter – as he continues to feel more comfortable in California.
“Joao is still somewhat of a young player, so he’s the kind of guy that needs guys around him to give him confidence and boost his morale,” said Husidic. “For me he’s been great, he’s reacted really well to a lot of harsh criticism that he’s gotten early on when he came here. He’s bounced back and we’re finding a really good relationship there in the middle so I’m very happy for him.”