Riqui Puig to the rescue: 99th-minute PK could save LA Galaxy's season


A penalty kick decision deep into second-half stoppage time, a critical point on the line, Riqui Puig was taking no chances at who would step up for the decisive shot.

The 23-year-old Spanish midfielder, signed last month from LaLiga giants FC Barcelona, grabbed the ball even before referee Chris Penso went to the Video Review monitor.

This was his moment.

Puig did what Chicharito failed to do earlier in the second half, converting his 99th-minute penalty kick to secure a 1-1 draw for the LA Galaxy against Nashville SC at GEODIS Park Saturday afternoon.

It was his second career goal for the Galaxy, and first from the penalty spot.

“I took penalty kicks for the Galaxy for a number of years. You want somebody who is confident, who’s going to step up, who wants the responsibility on their shoulders, especially at the death when it's 1-0,” LA head coach Greg Vanney said postgame.

“For me, penalties are as much a mental game as it is a technical game or anything else. And so you want somebody stepping up there who is clear in their mind and has the confidence to pick their spot and bury it.”

Puig had lobbied for the Galaxy’s first PK in the 55th minute, but Chicharito waved him off. That happened after Nashville defender Shaq Moore had bundled over Mexico’s all-time leading scorer in the box.

As Penso was debating whether Walker Zimmerman handled a Chicharito shot in the box – he did just that after Video Review and sent off the US men’s national team defender for his second bookable offense – Puig made sure the game was at his foot and no one else’s.

“He grabbed the ball right away and I don't think there was any chance anyone was taking it out of his hands. He wanted it,” Vanney said. “He’s a winner. We've seen that since he's gotten here. He's passionate about winning, he’s passionate about being here.

"So for me, I have all the confidence in the world when somebody steps up and they have that level of certainty to put the ball down at the spot and take that responsibility. I think it's deserving of respect and I give that to him for sure.”

There were three penalty decisions in this critical Western Conference showdown, with Landon Donovan MLS MVP candidate Hany Mukhtar converting in the first half for the hosts, his league-leading 22nd goal of the season.

All three decisions, including the one awarded to his team, were questioned by Nashville head coach Gary Smith.

“Unfortunately in those final moments, seconds even really, my emotions and thoughts had spun very much into, 'How on Earth has the referee contrived to give them two penalties at our stadium and ultimately three penalties all in all,” Smith said. “I’m not sure that all three of those, and I would even in some ways question ours, I'm not sure they were penalties.”

After the smoke cleared, Nashville and the Galaxy shared the points with the Coyotes, who had a four-match winning streak snapped. LA stretched their unbeaten streak to six, having drawn their last three games.

The Galaxy are chasing an Audi MLS Cup Playoffs return, sitting in eighth place. They've qualified for the postseason just once (2019) in the past five years.