Riqui Puig shows MVP potential in El Tráfico: "I felt like a little kid"


For one glorious, record-setting July 4th El Tráfico, the LA Galaxy looked like legit MLS contenders. And possibly even more striking, Riqui Puig looked like arguably the best player in the league.

That’s how massive the implications could be for the Gs after Tuesday’s 2-1 statement win over crosstown rivals LAFC in front of a historic crowd of 82,110 fans at the Rose Bowl.

Nobody made a bigger statement than Puig, last year’s second-half sensation who wanted nothing less than to put together a Landon Donovan MLS MVP-caliber 2023 seasonhis first as a Designated Player. While the former Barcelona wunderkid never lacked moments of playmaking brilliance, he’d arguably been yet to put together a defining performance worthy of those lofty ambitions.

Matchday 23 was a completely different story. Puig all but dominated the proceedings from start to finish, leading the Galaxy to their biggest win of the season with an assist on Tyler Boyd’s 26th-minute golazo before deciding the match with a highlight-reel strike of his own with 17 minutes remaining.

“I love pressure, I love playing these games, I love playing derbies against big teams. And I’m honestly very happy,” the 23-year-old Spaniard said post-match.

Asked about another goal he scored against LAFC earlier this season – a sensational solo effort in the US Open Cup Round of 16 that raised eyebrows after he took off his jersey in front of the Black & Gold’s 3252 supporters’ section – Puig’s only regret was not being able to replicate the celebration.

Meanwhile, LA head coach and sporting director Gregg Vanney was more interested in highlighting Puig’s talents, calling Tuesday’s performance one of the best he’s seen from the La Masia Academy graduate in a Galaxy uniform.

“Given the moment, given the stadium, the amount of people, the spectacle that was tonight, he was outstanding,” Vanney stated.

“He’s just, like, on a different speed. When he picks up the ball and shifts and changes directions and accelerates through the lines, he’s just – it’s a different speed.”

Boyd, who scored his second worldie in as many El Tráficos, joined in the praise for Puig.

“Amazing player. I think we’re gelling together, him and I especially,” the US international said. “Today, it showed. He gave me the first assist, I gave him the second. So, that’s nice to make that connection.”

For Puig, the most satisfying aspect about Tuesday’s result, beyond the three points – which gave the Galaxy their first win in over a month and extended their unbeaten run to (2W-0L-4D) to six straight games – was the joy he experienced on a night for the history books.

“I think every player plays soccer to play these games,” the midfielder said. “These stadiums, to have 82,000 people watching you.

“I don’t play for money, I play for these experiences," Puig said. "I felt like a little kid.”