Four days after a dominant performance in LA’s 2-1 El Tráfico win over LAFC before a record-breaking MLS crowd, the Spanish maestro was it again in a 3-1 victory over the Philadelphia Union on Saturday night.
Puig, a 2023 MLS All-Star, produced one goal and one assist in both matches – recapturing the excitement surrounding his MLS arrival 11 months ago from LaLiga powerhouse side FC Barcelona.
“You’re seeing the best of Riqui,” Galaxy head coach and sporting director Greg Vanney said postgame. “Because he uses players to bounce off of them, you give him the ball, he keeps moving, he gets it back, keeps playing – that’s part of the beauty of what he does and how he builds speed in attacks. And now, back in, gets the ball, and the game is flowing and has a rhythm to it that he shows you all with the ability that he has. And he had a good finish today, too.”
It was quite the finish indeed, collecting a lay-off from Dejan Joveljić and sending a top-corner screamer past Union goalkeeper Joe Bendik in the 76th minute to seal the victory. Puig, overcoming a physical approach by Philadelphia, also finished with four chances created, four successful dribbles, seven duels won and nine recoveries in another man-of-the-match showing.
“I think you either have [vision] or you don't and I'm a player that thankfully, I'm aware of everything that's going on the field,” Puig said via a translator when asked about seeing plays. “I'm always looking up and I like to have the ball and move with the ball. I think the team finds me a lot because it's a good option to get out of pressure. We have to keep on with this mentality and results will come.”
Douglas Costa breakthrough
The Galaxy, who are enjoying a seven-game unbeaten run (3W-0L-4D), are just three points off the Western Conference’s ninth and final Audi MLS Cup Playoffs spot. It’s a remarkable reality considering the lows they’ve experienced on and off the field in 2023, seemingly turning a corner even though star striker and captain Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez is out for the year with a torn ACL.
And while Puig is drawing headlines, wingers Tyler Boyd and Douglas Costa are also stepping up – a trio Vanney said is “flying.” Boyd, an offseason signing who was last at Turkish club Beşiktaş, scored the Galaxy’s opener for the second straight game. Costa, a former Brazilian international with storied stops at Juventus and Bayern Munich, now has six assists in LA’s last six games and forced the Union’s own goal on Saturday night.
Costa’s emergence is perhaps most noteworthy, as the Designated Player faced widespread criticism while struggling to produce after his 2022 arrival.
“I think it's just down to staying healthy,” Boyd said of Costa. “He's getting game time. He's getting minutes. I don't think anyone can question his quality. His career speaks for itself. And he’s a huge asset to us as a team. So, I think it's just down to him staying healthy and having a stretch of games where he gets a lot of minutes and then his real quality shows.”
Added Puig: “A player like him and his quality, he's played in some of the best teams in Europe. He's coming from those teams and he's been enjoying himself in the last couple of games that we've had here. With him on the field, I think we are doing more damage offensively. We have the ball more, we have more chances on the attack and I think as long as we have him healthy for the last of the year it's good for us because we need him.”
LA, who don't play midweek as part of Matchday 25, return to action next Saturday for a Matchday 26 test at Vancouver Whitecaps FC (10:30 pm ET | MLS Season Pass). Then comes the MLS All-Star Game on July 19 in Washington, D.C., followed by the month-long pause in domestic competition for Leagues Cup.
The Galaxy, who are looking to get creative in the Secondary Transfer Window while dealing with sanctions, aren’t out of the woods just yet. They're still 13th in the Western Conference table, after all. But with those like Puig, Boyd and Costa stepping up, a dreary spring has given way to a hopeful summer.
“There’s a lot of good things coming out of the group right now,” said Vanney. “And also the positivity of getting results makes people happier. And when you’re happy, you get out of your head a little bit. And when you get out of your head, you can connect with people. All these things matter.”
Added Puig: "We deserve to have this stretch and we are happy and excited for what's ahead."