FC Barcelona to MLS MVP? LA Galaxy's Riqui Puig has target set

Riqui Puig

Only one club in MLS can claim its players, collectively, have won four MVP trophies: D.C. United.

If Riqui Puig has his way during the 2023 season, the LA Galaxy will join that rarified air. The MLS originals have combined to win MLS Cup presented by Audi nine times. 

"I want to go for everything, I want to win everything," the Spanish midfielder said Wednesday via a translator. "I want to be MVP, I want to win it all. I want to be a star in MLS and make a big name for myself in this city. I will work hard to achieve that."

Puig’s remarks came after it was announced he’ll now occupy a Designated Player spot for LA, a shift that both pertains to MLS’s roster-building mechanics and rewards the 23-year-old for his outsized impact since debuting in mid-August. 

After arriving last summer on a free transfer from LaLiga giants FC Barcelona, Puig produced three goals and five assists in 10 games. He formed an immediate understanding with midfield partners Mark Delgado and Gaston Brugman, pulling the strings as LA reached the Western Conference Semifinals of the Audi 2022 MLS Cup Playoffs before falling to LAFC

Galaxy head coach and sporting director Greg Vanney, also speaking after Wednesday’s news, recognized how big a player Puig could be in MLS. 

"He’s a player with a lot of quality," Vanney remarked. "In a short amount of time, six months, he’s quickly proven to people, I think, that he can impact games. 

"I’m hearing whispers around the league of a guy that might be in the MVP candidate group to start a season. So if he continues to perform, then I would imagine there would be a knock on some doors about contracts and extensions and progressions and all that stuff."

Should Puig realize his MVP dream, he’d join forwards Carlos Ruíz (2002), Landon Donovan (2009) and Robbie Keane (2014) as Galaxy players who won the year-end award. And US soccer all-time great Donovan, of course, is who the trophy is named after.

For 2023, Puig will hold a DP spot alongside legendary Mexican striker Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez and former Brazil national team winger Douglas Costa. He doesn’t hyper-focus on the roster label, though.

"I know it’s important for me to be a DP, but I came here with another mentality," Puig said. "To have the club’s confidence and to have the coach’s confidence, that’s more important to me than just being a DP."

He later added: "I want to thank the club for giving me that confidence and I want to pay it back on the field with a lot of titles."

Three other Spaniards have won MVP honors in MLS's history: NYCFC striker David Villa (2016), Toronto FC midfielder Alejandro Pozuelo (2020) and New England Revolution midfielder Carles Gil (2021).

More to come?

After the Puig announcement, LA don’t seem done on the roster-building front during the Primary Transfer Window (which runs through April 24). 

Vanney said they’re pursuing "two to three potential moves" over the next month-plus and have some flexibility and resources to utilize. They’re being mindful of transfer sanctions that ensure they can’t sign players from abroad this summer. 

"We have some solid resources and some different things that we can move around in our roster to continue to increase the quality, increase the depth," Vanney said. "Again, without a summer international window, we want to do things right. But we also have internal options if we wanted to make moves inside the league this summer. It’s a little bit of gauging [and] we want to get the right people. 

"We like where we are, we have some targets, we’re in discussions."

One player LA have acquired is right back Lucas Calegari, who’s on loan from Brazilian Serie A side Fluminense through 2023 with a purchase option. That U22 Initiative deal came together after Mexican international right back Julián Araujo’s reported $4 million transfer to FC Barcelona, offering LA a different look at the position.

"He’s not necessarily a flier up and down the lines similar to [Araujo], who was really like a runner," Vanney said. "Lucas is a guy who can invert, he can go inside, he can play outside. He’s got a different type of education for the position and he’s a different type of right back. But his timing to get forward is very good, the quality of his service is consistent and it’s good. Defensively he’s got very good instincts."

So far, LA’s other main moves this winter have been acquiring midfielder Memo Rodríguez, midfielder Uri Rosell and center back Chris Mavinga in MLS free agency. They also brought in US international winger Tyler Boyd on a free transfer after he was last at Turkish powerhouse Beşiktaş. 

The Galaxy, after their much-anticipated El Trafico opener got postponed to July 4 (inclement weather), will begin the new season on Saturday at FC Dallas (8:30 pm ET | MLS Season Pass). They’ll be without both Chicharito (hamstring) and Douglas Costa (calf) to injury.