LA Galaxy: Riqui Puig vows future, Chicharito uncertainty, Douglas Costa leaves

Riqui Puig - LA Galaxy

The LA Galaxy have opened a Designated Player roster spot for the 2024 MLS season, announcing Monday winger Douglas Costa and the club have parted ways. The former Brazil international was only under contract through 2023.

The 33-year-old, whose résumé includes European powerhouses Bayern Munich and Juventus, produced seven goals and 12 assists in 46 games across two seasons with LA.

Head coach and sporting director Greg Vanney, speaking in his end-of-season media availability, praised the form Douglas Costa found when fully healthy. However, the club evaluated the situation and determined it was best to deploy high-value resources elsewhere.

“The challenge for us, and when we talk through it, we have to know that our DPs are going to be on the field and are going to be available as much as possible,” Vanney said.

“There are levels of quality of player in the world, and even the highest, highest-level payer, if they're not on the field they can't help you. … You've just got to know with some level of certainty that you're going to have availability as much as possible, barring the situation that we saw with some of our guys this year.”

Chicharito decision looms

Vanney referenced the Galaxy’s mountain of injuries in 2023 that became too significant to overcome, resulting in a 13th-place finish in the Western Conference (36 points; 8W-14L-12D) and being eliminated from Audi 2023 MLS Cup Playoffs contention with two matchdays remaining.

At one point, LA had seven locked-in starters sidelined long-term – defenders Martín Cáceres, Lucas Calegari and Jalen Neal; midfielders Gastón Brugman, Mark Delgado and Riqui Puig; and striker Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez. Other key players missed time as well.

The final player listed above (Chicharito) presents another difficult decision as LA look to reverse course for 2024 and beyond. He’s recovering from a torn ACL suffered in June, but at age 35 and occupying a DP spot, a return doesn’t seem straightforward for Mexico’s all-time leading goalscorer. Chicharito’s reportedly out of contract this winter as well, totaling 38 goals and six assists in ​74 games since arriving from Spain’s Sevilla before the 2020 campaign.

“A lot of these are processing and analyzing the short-term, long-term direction of our group and how we can be successful next year, but also how we can continue to be successful for years to come,” Vanney said.

“… Javi, obviously he has shown his qualities as a player, as a leader. We all know Javi very well and we appreciate Javi. It's just a combination of where he's at, where we're at and thinking of both short and long-term success. We all know in this league that the DP positions are such coveted positions. You don't get many of them, so when you make these types of decisions they have to be very thoroughly thought through, and wise decisions have to be made.”

Puig happy in LA

While there’s no guarantee Chicharito returns, Puig’s future in LA looks far more certain. The FC Barcelona product is under contract through the 2025 MLS season, and last March was bumped up to a DP deal.

The 24-year-old, who’s been among the league’s top creators since coming stateside, seems confident there’s a brighter future ahead.

“LA has treated me so well and the fans have treated me as one more of this big family that we all are,” Puig, a 2023 MLS All-Star, said through a translator. “I’ve always said that the Galaxy are the biggest team in MLS and we’ll continue to be just because of the team’s past and the future; what’s ahead is important. We are a team with the most MLS Cups.

“It’s true it’s been a difficult year for all, but we’re already working since today for what’s ahead with Greg and [technical director] Jovan [Kirovski] and the whole front office to have a competitive team and be on the top again.”

Whatever awaits on the roster front, Puig reaffirmed his future remains in MLS.

“Before taking off, I do want to talk with the Galaxy, sit down with them and see what’s next for next year,” Puig said. “It’s a club, I see myself here for many years, but we have to see my contract and see what else we can do. I’m happy here and want to be here. It’s a team with a big future and I want to be here.

“Then it’s three months of vacation almost. I leave today for Barcelona to be with my family and it’s also good to be disconnected a bit because it’s been a very long year. I’m looking forward to then being back in January.

Puig, who has 10 goals and 13 assists in 39 games with LA, vows they can’t repeat this year’s on/off-field struggles.

“There’s no excuses next year,” Puig said. “This year it was injuries and the [fan] boycott and what happened to our president. Next year we have to start united and together and we need to start fresh so we can be a good team and have that mentality to win cups.”