Riqui Puig believes his remarkable debut 2022 MLS season with the LA Galaxy could’ve lasted even longer and ended even better. And he has high expectations for an MLS Cup run in 2023, his first full season in the league.
“We were closer to winning than they were, honestly,” last summer’s transfer sensation said about the G’s dramatic 3-2 Western Conference Semifinal loss to El Trafico rival and eventual champions LAFC in the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs. “But soccer is like that.
“It’s not the best team that wins, the team that scores the most goals wins. Soccer is about scoring goals.”
On that memorable October night at Banc of California Stadium, it was the Black & Gold who scored the most goals – most notably Chicho Arango netting a stoppage-time winner that KO’d the Galaxy just as extra-time was approaching.
“I think that game got away from us because of foolishness,” the 23-year-old FC Barcelona product insisted.
"We were playing better, we had the ball more, we created much more clear chances. They had a lot of chances too, but I think we had more clear, clear chances."
While Puig’s analysis of the night’s events may be up for debate, no one can deny the massive impact he had upon his arrival at the end of the MLS Secondary Transfer Window. With 3g/5a in 827 minutes, the Spanish playmaker immediately established himself as one of the league’s brightest talents and helped turn the Galaxy into legit contenders.
Greg Vanney’s side lost just one of their last 11 games, going 3W-0L-1D in the final stretch to return to the postseason for the first time since 2019 and taking the eventual MLS Cup/Supporters’ Shield-double winners down to the wire in an El Trafico playoff match for the ages.
The numbers would argue Puig was a huge reason for this, taking the reins of LA’s offense with his flawless technique, vision of play and pinpoint passing. His per-96 numbers ranked in the 92nd percentile or better in goals, expected goals, expected assists and shot-creating actions. He was ranked in the 97th percentile or better in passes attempted, passing percentage and progressive carries.
Something to prove
Puig himself, who arrived on a free transfer from Barcelona (plus 50% sell-on and a buyback clause for the LaLiga giants) in August, is proud of what he was able to produce in so little time.
“I think the results are there to see,” he said, recalling how he came to MLS to recharge his young career after falling down the pecking order under Barça manager Xaxi.
“I came with a lot of motivation. When you’re not active for a while, not getting minutes, you want to prove yourself. … I came here, they put their confidence in me, I played and I think I showed [what I can do].”
Fans and pundits alike expect Puig to do even more in 2023 as he embarks on his first preseason with the Galaxy, offering him ample time to build on his chemistry with fellow midfielders Gastón Brugman (another summer transfer arrival) and Mark Delgado. There’s also All-Star forward Javier “Chicharito” Hernández, with whom the Spaniard has formed a fantastic partnership in attack.
Puig believes the 34-year-old Mexican legend was instrumental in helping the Galaxy host their first playoff game since 2016, a 1-0 win over Nashville SC.
“Chicharito is playing at a very high level. I think that, at his age, scoring 18 goals last year says a lot about what he is, about what he was, and he keeps showing it year after year,” Puig said.
“I’m very lucky to be able to share the locker room with him.”
WATCH: Dynamic duo! Riqui Puig, Chicharito combine for LA Galaxy golazo
Eyes set on MLS Cup
LA’s locker room will look different this year, with the club so far cutting ties with eight squad players from 2022. These include retiring MLS legend Sacha Kljestan as well as forward Kévin Cabral, traded to the Colorado Rapids in a move that frees up a Designated Player spot for the Galaxy.
Chicharito and Douglas Costa (who could also be on his way out) are the other DPs; Puig arrived on a Targeted Allocation Money deal. To date, the front office (which can't sign players from abroad this summer due to sanctions resulting from the 2019 season) has added center back Chris Mavinga and midfielder Memo Rodríguez via free agency, and there's an urgency to further strengthen the roster this window.
Even if no big signings are made, Puig is adamant the five-time MLS Cup champions have the talent and the obligation to vie for silverware.
“I think last year I wanted to make the playoffs, I think I got here a little too late,” he said. “But this year, starting from zero, we have a big chance to win the league, and I think we’re going to win it.”
Ahead of his first full MLS season, the former Barcelona wonderkid knows the pressure’s on both him and the Galaxy to deliver.
“We need to show that the Los Angeles Galaxy still have a lot to be done and are still a big name,” Puig said.
The Galaxy have a terrific chance to make a good first impression with their season opener against rival LAFC at the Rose Bowl coming Feb. 25 (9:30 pm ET | MLS Season Pass).
"I think that having an opponent in the same city motivates us even more... I can’t wait for the 25th [of February] to arrive so we can face them," Puig said.