Commentary: Dejan Joveljic is a chess national master. Will he be a game-changer for the Galaxy too?

LA Galaxy forward Dejan Joveljic, left, and Real Salt Lake defender Bryan Oviedo vie for the ball.

Chess, Dejan Joveljic says, is all about thinking ahead, being patient and working the board to your advantage. And if you do all that correctly and in concert, you can bend an opponent to your will.

Which explains how Joveljic put the Galaxy in check this winter.

Joveljic is a national master in chess, rating him among the top 1% of players worldwide, while in soccer he has started for Serbia in qualifying for the European Championship. But since joining the Galaxy in the summer of 2021, he has felt like little more than a pawn in the team’s plans, starting fewer than half the games in which he appeared.

That’s not exactly the role he envisioned.

“I am the future of Galaxy,” he said in an infamous TV interview 11 months into his MLS career. “If you ask me if I am happy when I’m on the bench, of course I’m not.”

Read more: 7 chill places in L.A. to play a pickup game of chess

Yet Joveljic remained patient, thinking two or three moves ahead as the Galaxy played out their gambit. Javier “Chicharito” Hernández, the team’s captain and leading scorer when Joveljic arrived, is gone now. So are Tyler Boyd, last season’s leading scorer with seven goals, and Billy Sharp, who had six.

In fact, of the eight players who have been listed as forwards on the Galaxy roster over the last 2½ years, Joveljic, 24, is the only one remaining. If that was his plan — sacrificing the better part of two years to win the starting job this season — it worked.

Now comes the hard part: proving it was worth it.

“Someone will say [it’s] pressure, someone will say no pressure. But if we have a good team, if I have good, top wingers, Riqui [Puig] behind me. I’m not afraid of anyone,” he said. “It’s not confidence. That’s a fact, OK?”

“To be honest, I never felt like a starter,” he added. “But this season, hopefully I’m going to be that guy.”

Despite his limited playing time, Joveljic scored 19 goals and had nine assists in his first three MLS seasons. This year, with an offense built around him, Joveljic is predicting 15 goals and a playoff berth as a minimum.

So are the Galaxy, who have already spent a franchise-record $10-million transfer fee to pry winger Gabriel Pec away from Brazilian club Vasco da Gama to provide service for Joveljic. And the team is committed to adding another winger, though that addition might now be delayed until the summer transfer window.

“We think we can open up the face of the goal and allow him to be the striker I…

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