CARSON, Calif. -- Giovani dos Santos might be among the more misunderstood players in MLS, and a lot of that has to do with the role he's been asked to fill for the LA Galaxy and how that balances, or doesn't balance, with his best qualities.
Dos Santos has exquisite skill and the ability to pull off things most other players can only dream about, but he's not always seemed the perfect fit for the playmaker job he's been assigned, and the Galaxy need to get the most from him in that spot.
LA has the makings of one of MLS's elite attacks, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Ola Kamara and Romain Alessandrini in front of dos Santos, and the 4-3-3 alignment head coach Sigi Schmid trotted out in last weekend's loss to the New York Red Bulls might provide the tools to make it so, once his team has become better accustomed to the formation. Dos Santos' ability to get on the ball and feed those around him are vital to its success.
Dos Santos' best spot is as a second forward, and he's as likely to score goals as set up teammates. LA haven't really played through him in nearly three years with the club, not consistently, and that needs to become part of the Galaxy's DNA.
“He's a hybrid,” Schmid said. “He's sometimes more of a second forward than a No. 10 and a playmaker, but I need him at times to be more of a No. 10 and not so much a second forward. It turns us into a 4-4-2 if he plays too high as a second forward. We need to find him as a No. 10. He has the ability to split passes, he has the ability to play people in -- he did it a couple times the other night -- and we just need more of that from him.”
LA's attacking chemistry is still under construction after an offseason rebuild, injuries that sidelined (among others) Alessandrini and dos Santos, and the arrival of Ibrahimovic at the end of March. That's part of the equation as dos Santos takes command of the attacking reins. Schmid has told him to play higher up the field than he often does, but not too high. It's a delicate line.
“Since I came here, my role has been to be a No. 10 for the team,” dos Santos said as the Galaxy prepared for Saturday night's clash at Houston (8:30 pm ET | TV & streaming info). “It's true that last year maybe I came a little bit deeper because I didn't get enough balls on the [attacking] half of the field. ...
“Last year we were a little bit [of a] struggle to get the ball out of the back, and that's why I drove back. As a No. 10, you always want to get the ball. This year it's completely different. I can play a little bit deeper with Ibra [in front] and try to be in good position to get the ball.”
That requires teammates to find dos Santos, and the belief is that will improve as the Galaxy become more familiar with the intricacies of the 4-3-3 alignment and the return to health of Jonathan Dos Santos, Gio's younger brother, who could return to the No. 8 role against the Dynamo after missing two games with a calf injury.
Giovani dos Santos has been a critical piece of LA's attack since arriving during the Secondary Transfer Window in 2015. He scored 18 goals with 19 assists, including playoffs, in his first season-and-a-half with the team but was inconsistent, putting together stretches of superb play over a series of matches and following it with more nondescript play. He scored six times last year for a side that -- owing to an injury crisis, a dearth of depth and confidence issues that accompanied defeat after defeat -- struggled to do much of anything good.
“He's a goalscorer, and he wants to score goals,” said Sebastian Lletget, who has played to dos Santos' left or, as in the last game, just behind him. “He wants to create, but more than anything, he wants to score goals. He wants to get on the end of things.”
Dos Santos, who scored a nifty goal against the Red Bulls, can make things happen with the ball at his feet. Kamara thinks that's key to what LA can do.
“For me, it's how he sees the game in the pockets,” Kamara told MLSsoccer.com. “He always has you in the corners of his eyes. ... If I get in and start running up the side, some people don't see it, but because I know that he has that vision, I can start that run. You start your movement more because he has that vision.”
Does the Galaxy need to get more from him?
“I think right now, for us as a team, we haven't gotten as much as we need out of a number of guys,” Schmid said. “Part of it is just because of the changeover [in the roster], part of it is because of the injuries that we've had and guys have been out, and so some of those key players -- whether it's Romain or Gio -- haven't really had a rhythm. Once we get into that rhythm, that'll change things.”
Dos Santos says he's fine with wherever he's stationed, that whatever best benefits the team is where he wants to be.
“I always say I just try to help the team,” he said. “The coach finds the best position for me as the No. 10, and I'm going to try to help the team to create chances and also be in the defending way, and I'm trying to help [the group]. ... For me, the most important thing is to win the game. If we win the game, everything is good.”