News Matches
LA Galaxy

A tale of two signings: Puig shines while Costa falters as Galaxy have big decisions to make heading into 2023

12:49 AM IST 22/10/22
Puig Costa Split Galaxy
The club signed two stars in 2023, but only one had the impact needed for the team to contend at the top level

In some ways, the LA Galaxy's season was defined by two big-name signings.

The first of those signings is Riqui Puig, the ex-Barcelona wonderkid looking to reignite his career in Hollywood. And, in many ways, he already has. Puig immediately stepped into MLS and showed why, at one point, he was heralded as the next Andres Iniesta, absolutely dominating games by playing at a technical level that is essentially unmatched in MLS.

The second of those signings is Douglas Costa, the former Juventus and Bayern Munich winger looking to reignite his career after a tough spell in his homeland of Brazil. However, unlike Puig, Costa's class rarely shined through, despite him being the fifth-highest-paid player in the league with a salary of $5.8 million.

So, while the Galaxy hit big on Puig, they swung and missed, at least so far, on Costa. And that's the biggest difference between playoff contenders and title contenders. The Galaxy know as well as anyone in this league: if you want to win it all, you can't afford to swing and miss.

It was a lesson driven home once again on Thursday night by LAFC, as El Trafico produced another classic, chaotic piece of MLS history. In the end, LAFC won 3-2 on a last-gasp winner with several of their stars stepping up even as others, like Gareth Bale and Giorgio Chiellini, weren't needed.

But, as the Galaxy's season comes to a close, we can look back at two lessons learned during it. One, that signings like Puig can be true game-changers. And two, that signings like Costa are the ones that hold you back in the moments that define a season.

We'll start with the good part of that assessment: Puig.

Puig's arrival was, in some ways, unprecedented. Yes, MLS clubs have signed stars, both young and old. But never had an MLS club signed a player like Puig who, at age 23, had already played 60 times for Barcelona. Needing an opportunity to change the trajectory of his career as his time at Barca came to an end, Puig chose MLS. And what a choice it was, for both the player and the club.

The Galaxy have a potential superstar on their hands in the young Spaniard, a player that truly is on a different level than virtually every other midfielder in MLS.

From the moment the Barca product stepped on the field for the Galaxy, that was plain to see. He dictates the game at an incredible level, as most La Masia graduates do. Puig glides around the midfield, seeking the ball, moving the ball, and dominating the ball. He's not perfect, with his discipline a concern after he almost got sent off against LAFC for a headbutt that would have drawn red in just about any other game. But the early signs are promising to say the least.

Making just 11 total regular season appearances, Puig contributed three goals and five assists, while being near the top of the league in every other passing metric available.

And what a story that is to sell going forward. Not every player can make it at a big club and most end up finding their place somewhere else around Europe's top leagues. Puig choosing MLS to be his place is a potential game-changer, one that could open the door for the Galaxy and other MLS clubs to welcome plenty of other top European youngsters in need of a change of scenery. Puig isn't the first to make that choice, but he is the biggest and, so far, that choice has looked spectacular.

That's the good. But, if it was all good, the Galaxy would be preparing for a Western Conference final, not packing their lockers and looking ahead to next season.

The Galaxy's playoff exit was truly a game that could have gone either way, but it didn't. It went LAFC's way, partly because one of their big signings, Denis Bouanga, stepped up while several of the Galaxy's struggled.

It's one of the things that held the Galaxy back this season, as DPs Costa and Kevin Cabral never lived up to their paychecks in 2022.

Cabral, a former PSG academy star that was brought in to help shape the Galaxy's future, scored just one goal and provided just three assists in 33 games. Costa, who, at age 32, was brought in to bring leadership and creativity to the Galaxy attack, contributed just six goals.

So, through most of the season, Javier 'Chicharito' Hernandez was the Galaxy's only true star, carrying the team on his back at points with his 18 goals. The team's second-highest scorer was Dejan Joveljic , who scored a stunner against LAFC, as the supersub netted 11 goals despite starting just seven games and playing just 983 minutes. It wasn't really until Puig's arrival that the Galaxy had a second contributing start in the starting XI.

That can be attributed to a number of factors. Costa, like many stars before him, may just need time to adapt to MLS. Cabral, like many young players before him, may just need to mature a bit more to become a contributor. But, when you're the Galaxy, do you have time to wait for all of that to happen?

In Puig, the Galaxy have a player to build around, and they have a midfield around him in Marky Delgado and Gaston Brugman, another summer signing, that allows him to thrive. Chicharito will be back another year, which he already announced, giving the Galaxy an elite scorer up top for at least one more season.

The question is what becomes of those last two DP spots, and it's that question that will define the Galaxy's 2023. In this league, you need your stars to produce at a high level and, if they don't, we probably won't see you playing in that final game. Can Cabral or Costa turn it around? Possibly. Will the Galaxy be patient enough to wait and find out? We'll see.

Now, it isn't quite that simple, as the Galaxy also have concerns to address in defense, even after the signing of Martin Caceres this summer.

If the Galaxy want to return to MLS elite, there will likely need to be some big moves made this summer. Do they look to bring in a winger to help get the best out of Chicharito? Could they bring in a striker to pair with the Mexican star, or do they hand the keys to Joveljic? What about some help in defense?

They already made one big move in bringing in Puig, but what sort of players they surround him with will define his stay in MLS before Europe ultimately comes calling once again.