The free transfer, completed using Targeted Allocation Money, sent international shockwaves. A 22-year-old attacking midfielder and prized La Masia graduate, one with nearly 60 appearances for one of LaLiga’s top clubs, was coming to the five-time MLS Cup champions.
A simple question persisted: How? Head coach Greg Vanney provided some insight midweek, drawing parallels to when the ex-Toronto FC manager was involved with Italian forward Sebastian Giovinco’s 2015 arrival from Juventus.
”Sometimes it’s a little bit of a long shot, but if don’t swing you don’t know,” Vanney said. “That was the same idea we had at Toronto when we got Giovinco. If you don’t take a swing you’ll never know if you can get it done.
“The pieces worked together. He was a young man that they were looking to get to somewhere else to get games, to play. He saw the project and his family saw the project as something that was really beneficial and exciting for him.”
As part of the deal, Barca announced they reserve the right to repurchase Puig and will receive 50% of any future transfer should the Galaxy sell him. For further context, manager Xavi Hernandez reportedly didn’t have Puig in his plans for the 2022-23 season, all as the Catalan club faces financial controversy around contracts and player registration.
That opened the door for LA’s pitch, allowing Puig to be more of a centerpiece than in a Barca squad headlined by global superstars Robert Lewandowski, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and more.
“We will be more dependent on him in those final actions and to develop that part of his game than maybe he would be if he were at Barcelona,” Vanney said. “That’s not the role he’s expected to play at Barcelona, which is to be the final passer, the playmaker and all that kind of stuff. But he comes here and he’s that guy for us and I think really can grow in that space.”
Vanney also envisions Puig as their missing piece in midfield, joining the deeper-lying Mark Delgado and Gaston Brugman. That trio’s all joined LA in the last seven months: Delgado arrived via a trade from Toronto in January, while Brugman signed from Italian second-division side Parma in early July.
The Galaxy’s third first-choice midfielder had been Rayan Raveloson, though the Madagascar international is now back in France after a reported $2 million transfer to Ligue 1's Auxerre that coincided with Puig’s arrival. LA still have veterans Victor Vazquez and Sacha Kljestan as those who can complete the final pass, but Vanney is bullish on the dynamic Puig brings their No. 10 role.
“Having somebody who can shift past the midfield and get to the next line and force the defending line to have to make some decisions with his quickness and sharpness, those are all things that I believe this group needs. We haven’t had it,” Vanney said.
“Even [Vazquez], who is our vision guy and final passer, he’s not really a guy who slips onto the next line on the dribble and eliminates guys off of his dynamic movement. He’s a guy who has the game mapped out in his eyes and he sees everything that’s going to happen.
“But this is a guy who eliminates people on the move with the ball and creates the next dynamic for the backline. If he can get to the next line, defenders have to figure out how they’re going to defend him, which opens up your forward, which opens up your winger, which opens up other opportunities. He has that kind of dynamic capacity to get us into that next line cleanly. That’s where I think he can change a bit of our midfield dynamic.”
Now, it’s a matter of when Puig can debut for a Galaxy side that enters Week 25 sitting ninth in the Western Conference table. They’re waiting for work visa approval, making Puig a question mark heading into Saturday’s home match against Vancouver Whitecaps FC (10 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+).
Vanney is “hopeful" that Puig could feature and said “there’s reason to have optimism,” but nothing was definitive as of his Thursday press conference.
“Likely off the bench given the grand scheme of things,” Vanney said when asked about Puig’s potential early role. “We’ll see if things happen tonight and he can integrate fully into training tomorrow and all that kind of stuff. But generally speaking, I think we want to take the right process with this and we’ll just see how things play out.”
When Puig debuts, Vanney is confident a rapid acclimation awaits and he’ll speed up their tempo of play. It’s all part of a notable coup by LA, a player profile and deal that’s historically unusual for an MLS team.
“These are not situations that happen often and when they do it’s pretty amazing,” Vanney said. “Obviously we were able to pull through.
“I had dinner with him and his family the other day and he’s been around here. He just has this nice youthful energy, but also there’s just a passion to play and obviously the ability will speak for itself when he gets on the field. It’s nice to have in our group.”
Can Riqui Puig fix the LA Galaxy?