The 2022 MLS campaign has long been over and the unforgiving nature of the single-elimination Audi MLS Cup Playoffs sends another four clubs to the offseason after the Conference Semifinals, with just four teams left standing. The other 24 (plus St. Louis!) are in full offseason mode.
Here, we'll be covering three questions for every team moving forward. Think of it as an exit interview, if you will. Matt Doyle, as always, has you covered on his preeminent season-in-review for each club (LA Galaxy version). Read that, too.
He has gifs. It’s tough to beat gifs.
The LA Galaxy returned to the playoffs and hosted a Round One game again, finishing the season strong after an up-and-down summer. They have stars, they have a possession-based identity and moved forward in year two under Greg Vanney.
Their playoff run ended at the hands of LAFC, with another absolutely bonkers playoff edition of El Trafico resulting in an LA Galaxy loss. Onto the offseason with real reasons for optimism.
The LA Galaxy’s summer transfer window was incredible.
They had the unique situation of being able to sign Riqui Puig on a free transfer (plus 50% sell-on and a buyback clause for FC Barcelona). It was an incredible opportunistic acquisition, as Puig is one of the best players in the league while not costing a dollar in terms of a transfer fee and doesn’t hit the cap as a DP.
Gaston Brugman was a perfect fit as a No. 6 behind him and next to Mark Delgado. The Martin Caceres addition went under the radar, but he was another really good opportunistic signing.
The point there is: The Galaxy did a lot of great work in the summer. They probably leveraged whatever they could to make it happen. Flexibility for the winter will probably come from players leaving.
All three DP spots are taken (Chicharito, Kevin Cabral and Douglas Costa). Costa is under contract only for next season. They can run it back and hope for better, or they’d need to find a transfer for Cabral or Costa. That may not be easy, so they could use their one offseason buyout if they desperately wanted to open a DP spot.
Their three U22 Initiative slots are filled as well (Julian Araujo, Efra Alvarez and Dejan Joveljic). I’m going to go deeper on Joveljic later, so we’ll save that. But Araujo and Alvarez are players around the Mexican national team with aspirations to go to Europe. TBD on if anything happens this winter.
Those are two of the high-leverage spots. There’ll be the normal roster evolution in which a handful of players leave and open roster spots/some cap, but, to take a big swing, the Galaxy would need to get creative.
Joveljic was the best backup forward in the league this year. The Galaxy, I’m sure, would love to keep him, he’s been very valuable. What does he want?
Being called “the best backup forward” in and of itself is a backhanded compliment. The 23-year-old Serbian forward was not supposed to be a “backup."
Joveljic cost $4 million from Germany's Eintracht Frankfurt. He scored 17 goals in 2,000 Austrian league minutes in his age-21 season. He was a rising talent at Red Star Belgrade, a constant with Serbian youth national teams and has two caps with the senior side. I imagine he assumed he’d be starting most games when he agreed to sign with the Galaxy.
When asked about playing time, Joveljic has been honest in saying he wants more (duh). He’s handled himself professionally in public, he gives it his all during his minutes and doesn’t pout around.
Is he happy with this situation? There is likely to be a wide market for him in Europe, if he decided to try and force his way out. There would be a wide market in MLS for him as well, but he’d certainly cost a new league-record trade for the Galaxy to consider.
When it seemed certain the Galaxy would swap to a two-forward formation, they did for a bit… and still didn’t really start Chicharito and Joveljic together. The pair started only four games (of 36 total) together all year.
This team has the personnel for a 3-5-2 with Puig underneath Chicharito and Joveljic, but it just hasn’t been a preference.
Riqui Puig is such a perfect fit for the way Vanney wants this Galaxy team to play. He’s been so much fun in his first third of a season in MLS, adapting immediately.
The expectation/hope is SKY HIGH next year. He had 3g/5a in 827 minutes. He looks a natural at the No. 10, despite playing deeper for most of his career. I suspect he’ll continue to embrace the attacking burden next year and take more chances.
Among midfielders in 2022, Puig’s per 96 numbers ranked in the 92nd percentile or better in goals, expected goals, expected assists and shot-creating actions. He ranked in the 97th percentile or better in passes attempted, passing percentage, progressive passes and progressive carries. He was awesome.
The crazy part is… I’m expecting even more next year. It’s unfair but he’s so talented. The system is a perfect fit. If Puig has competent wing play around him, and Chicharito looks young still, he’s going to have a billion assists.
A few more thoughts:
- If Sacha Kljestan decides to retire, I hope he gets the victory lap he deserves. A really, really great midfielder in this league for a long time.
- Will there be more academy kids graduating into the first team next year? That would help a lot with depth.
- Could Caceres be back, too?
- Can Chicharito continue to look young as he turns 35 next year?