More than three years ago, as a highly-rated teenager at one of the world's biggest clubs, Riqui Puig made his Barcelona debut.
Puig excelled through the club’s academy, viewed as among the best for developing professional talent on the planet. He looked like he belonged immediately and was billed as the next great midfielder to come out of La Masia.
The technically sound, creative midfielder would go on to make 57 appearances for Barcelona, but never quite established himself as a regular. At this point, it was time to leave for regular minutes elsewhere and to continue developing. He’s not the first and certainly won’t be the last to not quite make it at Barcelona, and at that juncture of a player’s career, other LaLiga sides are queuing up to sign a player like him.
But Puig didn’t stay in Spain this summer. Instead, he accepted an offer from the LA Galaxy. Now, days after his 23rd birthday, Puig is ready to rejuvenate his career in MLS, perhaps setting a new pathway for players to come after him.
“I’ve been around the league a long time, since the beginning. We’ve just made arguably one of the most significant signings in the history of the league,” Galaxy head coach Greg Vanney told media Wednesday during a press conference. “To have a young player of his quality to come from the club he was at where he already had success – to choose the Galaxy, to choose MLS to continue to grow his career – is immensely humbling and a huge recognition for the league.”
Barcelona insisted upon a buyback clause as part of the transfer (meaning they could re-sign him for a pre-fixed price), as well as a 50% sell-on clause. They clearly still believe in his talent.
Puig, for his part, can’t wait to get his Galaxy career underway, where he’s eligible to debut on Friday evening at home against Seattle Sounders FC (10 pm ET | ESPN, ESPN Deportes).
“I couldn’t imagine this club was reaching out to me,” Puig said through a translator. “I got great support from the fans when I arrived at the airport. The facilities are fantastic here. I couldn’t believe I was being called by the Galaxy.”
The Galaxy made a couple moves this summer, though Puig is the crown jewel of their summer business, signed through 2025. They also added Gaston Brugman, a more traditional defensive midfielder, and transferred Rayan Raveloson to Ligue 1’s AJ Auxerre, which was necessary to free the space to add Puig.
“Different layers of this that all had to come together at the right time to make this opportunity possible, none the least of which was [Puig] wanting and desiring this as a location to continue his career,” Vanney said. “When that came together, it was a no-brainer.”
Vanney didn’t mince words nor try to be vague as to hide his tactical plans: Puig will be an attacking midfielder.
The ideal fit is in a starting XI with Brugman and Mark Delgado as two deeper midfielders, or maybe Brugman as a single-pivot, but Puig’s responsibilities will be the final pass and shouldering the creative burden in midfield. Puig often played a bit deeper for Barcelona, more of a progressive passer from deeper positions than a chance creator higher up the field.
“I want him to be himself, to do the things he’s done as he continues to grow,” Vanney said. “We feel we can provide him the opportunity to grow, the guy who has solutions for us in the final actions. To see the final pass, make movements through the backline.”
At 23 years old, Puig has a long career ahead of him. If all goes well here, he can always head back to Europe with plenty of prime years left. MLS is increasingly becoming a place for young players.
“I like to take risks,” Puig said. “This is a good opportunity.”
Puig later added: “This is a league for young players. Trust me, in the coming years you’ll see more young players coming to this league.”
His Galaxy career is likely to start with a debut against the Sounders in Week 26. The Galaxy are thick in an Audi MLS Cup Playoffs race with 10 games left, sitting narrowly above the Western Conference’s line. At sixth place and with 33 points, there’s a cluster of teams fighting to finish the 2022 season in the top seven spots.
“My teammates have made me feel at home,” Puig said. “I’m ready for Friday. I’m ready to go.”
Can Riqui Puig fix the LA Galaxy?