It took Chicharito a year to shake the cobwebs out and become a productive MLS player, but he’s come good for the LA Galaxy over the last two years. Among the other Designated Players in 2022, it was far less rosy, as Kevin Cabral picked up a terminal case of the yips in year two, and Douglas Costa was a red card-acquiring shadow of his former self this year.
So while Greg Vanney has gradually put his fingerprints on this version of the Galaxy roster over time, the track record has been decidedly mixed. To be sure, all clubs have hits and misses, and there’s no team in the world that nails all of the signings exactly right.
But an institutional inability to build a coherent team, ever since Bruce Arena left, meant the signings made year after year were often reaches, or players brought in with the hope they would magically change everything.
Heading into this summer’s transfer window, however, the Galaxy knocked it out of the park in terms of their moves, and it made all the difference.
I think you could argue the general elements of the squad was there prior to the summer: An embarrassment of riches in terms of central striker, with Chicharito and Dejan Joveljić, even though Vanney seldom played the productive duo together; the addition of Mark Delgado, a key and underrated piece of Vanney’s legendary 2017 Toronto FC side; and a defense that seemed like it had potential to figure things out.
All in all, the defense probably overachieved, the attack was productive when chances were fed to Chicharito, and the midfield was fine. But by midseason, there was a malaise. The forwards didn’t get enough service, the wingers were severely underproducing, the midfield didn’t quite click, and this, while the defense generally did their part.
It seemed like the Galaxy couldn’t make moves in the summer, with whispers the team was effectively maxed out in terms of salary budget. I’m not sure what changed, beyond selling Rayan Raveloson back to France to clear the way for changes — Raveloson was a good scoring midfielder, and played very well in the couple months prior to his departure, but he wasn’t the defensive midfielder he was being asked to be.
In the end, Raveloson’s departure remade the Galaxy midfield. First, Vanney brought in Gaston Brugman, an Uruguayan who had vast experience in Italy and Spain, bouncing between the first and second divisions. A purer defensive midfielder, he didn’t have the name recognition, but his role fit the need better.
Then, the biggest move of all, as LA signed Riqui Puig on a free transfer from FC Barcelona. Puig was far younger than Europeans who come to MLS, and far more lauded coming in. A scapegoat of sorts on a Barcelona team in the middle of either a rebuild or a looming collapse as a global power, this was a unique opportunity for an MLS side to see if he was for real or a flash in the pan.
Puig was for real, all right. I’ve seldom seen a player in MLS who becomes a force multiplier for his teammates so radically. The entire team got better when Puig entered the lineup. They lost just two of the games he played. Even Brugman, who looked solid but maybe not necessarily an upgrade in his games without Puig, looked substantially better. He could make a through ball to set up teammates, he could score a timely goal to grab a result, and he could put in a tackle and step up to opponents to be a pest, too. Perfect midfield stuff!
If Puig had joined sooner, I think he could have won MLS Newcomer of the Year this year. As it stands, assuming he’s coming back next season and maintains the same high level of play, he’s a prime candidate to be an MLS Best XI selection. He’s both legit and his impact to lift the team should not be understated.
While the remade midfield took the headlines for the Galaxy, a third move turned out to be quietly very important, too. In signing defender Martin Caceres, another Uruguayan who had plenty of experience but had bounced around clubs in his career, I wasn’t even sure he would get much action this year, but he started the last eight games of LA’s campaign, and brought far more stability to the backline.
It wasn’t wild plays, but while the Galaxy defense by and large overachieved with the pieces they used most of the season, Caceres brought stability and calm to the backline, as he basically didn’t put a foot wrong throughout. A rental this year, basically, Caceres brought a major boost and hopefully will sign a new deal for 2023.
Three players do not a squad make, but the midseason additions of Brugman, Puig and Caceres all elevated the Galaxy’s play down the stretch in 2022. Without them, LA would certainly not have finished the season so strong and may not have even made the playoffs. With them, there’s hope that 2023 can be even better for the Galaxy.
What do you think? Leave a comment below.