Southern California is considered one of the country’s top markets for youth soccer with a long history of supplying talent to the national team. One of the newest additions to the player pool is Julian Araujo, a versatile wing player with the LA Galaxy. Considered a potential option for the upcoming CONCACAF Gold Cup, his star is on the rise and a transfer to Europe could be in the near future.
Born in Lompoc to “a family of farmworkers,” Araujo was “made aware at an early age of hard work and harsh conditions.” His youth career included stints with Lompoc High School, the Central Coast Condors, and Santa Barbara Soccer Club, winning the 2016 U-18 U.S. Youth Soccer Championship with the latter club. In 2017, he left home to join the famed Barça Residency Academy in Arizona, which had a hand in the development of fellow young stars Caden Clark and Matthew Hoppe. La Masia brought him in for a brief trial, perhaps an indication of his potential.
Araujo then joined the LA Galaxy Academy and played with the club’s reserve team. Despite previously committing to the powerful UC Santa Barbara program as a sophomore, he signed a professional contract with the five-time MLS champions. There was also interest from overseas, although the developing locally would prove to be the right choice. “He’s going to be a really, really, really good player,” remarked general manager Dennis te Kloese.
Araujo is unique for the modern MLS prospect in that he largely skipped past the USL level, stepping right into the back line rotation. The teenager began playing for the first team and made 20 total appearances in his first season. During a COVID-shortened 2020, Araujo played in 17 matches, impressing on defense and in the final third. He cemented himself as the first-choice right back for the Galaxy and was named the club’s Defender of the Year.
Last season’s breakthrough has been followed by continued strong performances. After being “a little rusty” coming off of the failed Olympic qualifying campaign, he’s played every minute of the last seven matches for a rejuvenated Galaxy side under new manager Greg Vanney. “I feel very confident,” said Araujo. “I feel like these coaches have helped me a lot to learn my position and just give me a lot of confidence, but I feel very good.”
As with most young players with his level of talent, European clubs are keeping tabs on his progress. According to various reports, Juventus is reportedly planning to table a transfer offer, while Tottenham is also said to be interested. He would “love” to fulfill his “dreams” by going abroad, but his international career could be a more pressing responsibility.
Araujo has been a consistent presence in the U.S. set-up, beginning at the U-16 level and earning a spot on the 2019 U-20 World Cup squad. His senior international debut came in December of 2020, starting and registering an assist in the 6-0 friendly victory over El Salvador. Gregg Berhalter named him to the 59-player preliminary roster for the 2021 CONCACAF Gold Cup, with inclusion likely to follow when the final group is announced.
“Julian’s an example of a guy that you want on your team,” said the USMNT manager last year. “He’s a guy that goes out and puts everything on the line every time he’s playing, and that’s what we like about him... I think we fits right into what we do. But we’ve been really excited about Julian, we really like his game, and we think it will translate well into what we do.”
As is customary for talented dual nationals, Mexico remains interested in securing his services, but the window may be closing. Describing his international future as a “tough decision,” both programs have recruited him heavily and made several promises. The door for El Tri “has not closed,” unless the young defender is added to the USMNT roster for the Gold Cup. “I’m going to go with whoever makes me more successful in my career,” he told MLS ExtraTime Radio in September of 2020.
Whichever country does ultimately secure his commitment could enjoy at least a few World Cup cycles of consistency and adaptability. A center back at the youth level, Araujo has the ability to play at all four wide positions, from fullback up to winger. His likely long-term future is at right fullback but his versatility could allow for him to thrive in the modern 3-5-2. In an interview with Soccer By Ives, he expressed that he “feels most comfortable” playing as a defender.
An athletic burner, Araujo was praised as a youth player for his “speed, quickness, and anticipation” as well as his work with and without the ball. Berhalter describes him as “a very dynamic fullback” that can “join the attack aggressively” with “good top speed” and “tenacious defense.” He is the prototypical fit for the position, delivering well-timed tackles, making long dribbling runs into the final third, and capable of distributing diagonal crosses that curve behind the back line into the path of the striker. In addition to a greater end product, Chasing a Cup observes his weaker left foot as an area requiring improvement. His professionalism and hard work off the field are continually noted by a variety of coaches, a dogged determination to improve his skillset and develop.
Off the field, Araujo has shown a commitment to the local community. While donating money and raising awareness on social media, he’s worked with the United Farm Workers Foundation to distribute food and other goods to essential workers. For his efforts, the Galaxy named him the club’s Humanitarian of the Year.
In recent years, fullback has become a position of strength for the United States, with talents such as Sergiño Dest, Reggie Cannon, and Antonee Robinson establishing themselves in the depth chart. Despite the swirling transfer rumors and solid performances with the Galaxy, there is a surprising lack of hype surrounding Araujo. Perhaps benefitting from being outside of the spotlight, he has developed into a useful right back now being courted by two national teams. As with many American players, the next few years will be transformative, in this case ideally featuring a transfer abroad and consistent call-ups, starting with next month’s Gold Cup.