CARSON, Calif. — The LA Galaxy's backline will be in flux Friday night, with Costa Rican center back Giancarlo Gonzalez likely to make his debut and right back Rolf Feltscher sidelined with a groin injury suffered in last weekend's victory over the Philadelphia Union.
Gonzalez, who last week was signed from Bologna following lengthy talks, became eligible when his paperwork was finalized Thursday and is expected to step in for either Diego Polenta or Daniel Steres. He's a veteran of two World Cups, Italy's Serie A and half a season with Columbus Crew SC, and his acclimation ought to be simple.
The Galaxy will offer a glimpse of the future on the right.
It looks like teen phenom Julian Araujo, signed in March after joining the club's academy and playing with Galaxy II late last season, will make his first Major League Soccer start after stepping in for Feltscher in the 65th minute of Sunday's 2-0 victory. He acquitted himself well against the Union, building on the five minutes or so of action he got in his MLS debut a month ago against Minnesota United.
“I think he's ready,” head coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto said ahead of the Dignity Health Sports Park clash with the Houston Dynamo (11 pm ET | UniMás, Twitter in US; MLS LIVE on DAZN in Canada). “He was training with us since January. He know what I want [from] him during the game. I know he's young, he's 17, but he was training with us, and he's ready.”
“The other guys on the team are giving me little things to work on to be ready for the game, because if Rolf doesn't come back, I need to step up and be ready, as a young player,” he told MLSsoccer.com. “I just need to work my butt off. I feel confident, and I feel ready, and I feel like I can compete.”
Feltscher isn't expected to be out for long -- Schelotto said the doctor told him about seven to 10 days, which would mean a return is possible for Wednesday's game at Minnesota United or the home game against Real Salt Lake four days later -- but this is just a beginning for Araujo.
Schelotto praises his speed and his ability going forward, but Mike Muñoz, the Galaxy's academy director and second-team head coach, says his “defending mentality” sets him apart.
“He's a tough kid, hard as nails, fearless, not afraid to go into tackles, not afraid to go up against bigger, faster, stronger guys,” Muñoz told MLSsoccer.com. “There's that defensive-mentality mindset that he has, where he's not going to let his opposition beat him.
“That's something that you can't coach. That's something that's ingrained in Julian.”
Araujo is part of a wave of rising academy and second-team players that, the club hopes, will become vital figures for the team in the coming years. Efrain Alvarez sparkled in his MLS debut earlier this season; much is expected of French left back Diedie Traore, who debuted a couple of weeks ago; and forward Ethan Zubak saw his first MLS action last month.
Araujo, who grew up in Lompoc, about 130 miles northwest of Los Angeles, came to the Galaxy from the FC Barcelona-affiliated Barça Academy in Casa Grande, Ariz. He was part of the US team that qualified for the upcoming FIFA U-20 World Cup and is on Tab Ramos' preliminary roster for the tournament and last month showed well for Jason Kreis at an Under-23 camp.
He's also eligible for Mexico, and says he's open to playing for El Tri or the US.
“Everything matter on how many opportunities each will give me,” he said. “Whoever gives me more opportunities, and whoever's going to provide more for me, that's who I'll go with, but as of right now, United States has given me more, so that's why I'm with them.”
Araujo played twice last season for Galaxy II -- his U-20 duties prevented him, Muñoz said, from getting “a consistent run of games” -- and signed with the first team March 1. He made his debut at home on March 16, coming on for Chris Pontius in the 85th minute.
“That was a dream come true,” Araujo said. “It was so surreal. I felt like I was in a dream, but making my debut in front of family. and friends was everything I ever wanted as a kid. Getting extra minutes against Philadelphia, playing for 25-30 minutes, it's kind of hard to jump into the momentum they're playing in, you've just got to give it time. But I feel that I played well, adjusting to the speed.
“I feel now if I have to start this weekend, I'm going to be confident from the very start, and I'm just going to do what I have to do.”
Muñoz said Araujo was “extremely excited” to be part of the Galaxy.
“He had his eyes wide open, he had his ears wide open [when he arrived last fall],” Muñoz said. “I mean, the kid, he just wanted to learn. He was a sponge. He wanted to take all of the information in.
“It's pretty mesmerizing how fast he's grown in a short amount of time, just because of his willingness to accept that he's not perfect. He wants to learn and get better everyday. Really had a mature, professional mentality from the start.”
And he has the needed tools to be very good.
“He has speed, so he's able to close down attackers,” Muñoz said. “He's able to track back and win the space in behind him, so it's very difficult for him to get beat in those situations. There will be a learning curve for him in MLS, don't get me wrong, but in terms of his defending ability, very, very good.”
Muñoz compares him with former Chivas USA and Liga MX left back Jonathan Bornstein, his teammate at Los Alamitos High School.
“It might be too early to make this comparison, but Bornstein was always a kid that whatever situation you threw him into, whether it was first-team MLS or the national team, he had no problem fitting in,” Muñoz said. “He was just able to do it.
“I see Julian in the same mold. No problem academy, no problem second team, and I think he's going to make a quick adaptation to the first team. It seems whatever situation you throw Julian into, he's able to adapt, no problem.”