Maya Yoshida eyes playoff push with “Premier League”-like LA Galaxy | MLSSoccer.com
Just last winter, Maya Yoshida captained one of Japan’s best-ever sides during a thrilling World Cup run – one that saw them beat tournament favorites Spain and Germany en route to topping Group E (the consensus “Group of Death”) before falling to semifinalists Croatia on penalties in the Round of 16.
Yoshida’s strong showing in Qatar wasn’t the first time he’d impressed on some of the world’s biggest stages. With 255 combined appearances across the Premier League, Serie A and Bundesliga, the 34-year-old center back with 126 Japan national team caps is plenty used to world-class competition.
It’s one of the reasons why the LA Galaxy appealed as his next career stop. If Yoshida was going to leave behind Europe – certainly not a must considering his 2,500+ Bundesliga minutes for FC Schalke 04 last season – then it made sense to go to a club with a winning history and ambitions.
“I came here to see the facilities, stadium and the top organization from the club staff. I really appreciate what they have done so far. It’s really different. To be honest, it’s much better than the last two clubs [Schalke 04 and Sampdoria],” said Yoshida in his introductory press conference, having signed with LA as a free agent through 2024.
“It’s very similar to Premier League club… and that kind of organization means this is the right club, right decision, right direction.”
Another plus for Yoshida is head coach/sporting director Greg Vanney’s possession-based style of play, a system that feels like home.
“That [style] is my favorite, to be honest. It’s totally different from the German mentality, and I prefer it more. Not criticizing the German football, but this is more football. It’s soccer,” said Yoshida with a smile. “This is more my style – and the national team, Italy or Premier League, I play like this a lot. So I’m really happy for that.”
Yoshida’s veteran presence should help stabilize a Galaxy backline that’s been largely overhauled from last season’s Audi MLS Cup Playoffs team. Of the squad’s 2022 playoff starters, only one – Raheem Edwards – remains available for selection, with right back Julián Araujo completing an offseason transfer to FC Barcelona, center back Séga Couilably getting waived in July and center back Martín Cáceres likely out for multiple months still as he recovers from knee surgery.
LA Galaxy add Mikey Barrios in a trade with the Colorado Rapids.
Strong window for LAG considering sanctions, able to add Diego Fagundez, Edwin Cerrillo, Tony Alfaro and Barrios.
Maya Yoshida to arrive soon now that the club can sign int’l free agents like all other MLS clubs pic.twitter.com/f6rsafFJUc
— Tom Bogert (@tombogert) August 3, 2023
The club had already begun retooling in 2023 by signing two U22 Initiative players at fullback – Calegari and Julián Aude – and promoting 19-year-old homegrown (and recent US men’s national team player) Jalen Neal to a starting role, meaning there’s a good chance Yoshida will start games this season as the only player on his backline older than 21.
“It’s quite a young squad, and I’m a bit experienced maybe. So of course, that’s what the club wants,” said Yoshida of providing leadership for LA’s young defensive group. “And after I spoke with the coach, that’s what he wants from me, which I appreciate. And of course, this role is my favorite in other clubs and the international team as well. … But first of all, I have to play well. Otherwise, I can’t convince anyone.”
In order to play well, Yoshida will need to acclimate not just on the field, but off it – an adventure he’s looking forward to in every way.
“Honestly, this is my first time to see America. Such a big country, everything big – car, road, street, everything,” Yoshida laughed. “And at this age, I have done many things in Europe, in Japan, and international level in football. So I needed to have something new to burn my passion. Probably here is the [place] I can burn my passion.”
But however large the former Southampton center back may find his surroundings, nothing trumps the size of his ambitions with the club.
The first item on the to-do list? Making the playoffs, a not-so-easy task with LA sitting 13th in the Western Conference standings, seven points back of Houston Dynamo FC for the ninth and final postseason spot.
“It’s a big club, such a big club – big stadium, big fans, big city. So potentially, it could be much bigger club,” said Yoshida of the record five-time MLS Cup winners.
“Unfortunately, now they have done not so well this season. So we need to get back in the track as soon as possible, especially this season. At least we need to go to the playoffs. That’s the target for this season. And the next season, of course, we have to be more ambitious for sure.”