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2023 LA Galaxy Season Preview: Riqui Shoots for MVP

LA Galaxy Attacking Midfielder Riqui Puig Is Aiming to Win MVP for the 2023 MLS Season.
LA Galaxy Attacking Midfielder Riqui Puig is aiming to win MVP for the 2023 MLS Season.
The Los Angeles Galaxy will be an MLS Cup contender if Riqui Puig can display MVP form. (Photo Credit: Los Angeles Galaxy)

Preview – The eyes of the world could have been on Los Angeles on February 25 as the recent union between MLS and Apple bears fruit with the LA Galaxy facing off against their city rivals, LAFC at the Rose Bowl. Now, instead it’ll be played on July 4, 2023. That game will witness a celebration of just how far soccer has come in the United States, with MLS Season Pass already being praised for its content. Likewise, they’ll witness “opening day” coverage that will surely spare no expense for the that edition of El Tráfico between the current MLS Cup champions and the team usually considered the jewel of MLS.

Viewers will witness a jewel lacking luster, though, as an incomplete Galaxy team is still trying to fill the missing pieces of its roster just two days from its opening match against FC Dallas on March 4. And while this should be a team that easily makes the playoffs thanks to stars like Riqui Puig and Javier “Chicharito” Hernández, off-field distractions like their own supporters boycotting them and a transfer ban, threaten distraction. Lack of depth means they are just an injury or two away from danger, but if Galaxy Head Coach and newly-minted Sporting Director Greg Vanney can get his last Designated Player signing right, an MLS Cup challenge isn’t out of the question.

2023 LA Galaxy Season Preview

Key Departures/Arrivals: LA Galaxy Season Preview

Key players out: Julián Araujo (Right-Back) FC Barcelona, Derrick Williams (Center Back) D.C. United, Cameron Dunbar (Right Winger) Minnesota United, Carlos Harvey (Defensive Midfielder) Phoenix Rising, Nick DePuy (Center Back) Nashville SC, Samuel Grandsir (Right Winger) AC Le Havre, Víctor Vázquez (Attacking Midfield) Toronto FC, Kévin Cabral (Left Winger) Colorado Rapids

Vanney went into the off-season expecting that the core of his team would be returning for the season. Instead, Vanney can field almost an entire team of players who left. The unplanned departures of Samuel Grandsir and Julian Araujo were massive hits, with Araujo especially hard to replace because of his age, ability, and potential. 

The Lompoc-born right-back made his dream move to FC Barcelona just days before the MLS season. And while the move is beautiful for Araujo, it presents a problem for the Galaxy as they’ll look to match Araujo’s production from other areas. Araujo led the Galaxy last year in assists (nine), completed passes into the opponent’s box, completed crosses into the opponent’s box, and was tied second for key passes and passes into the final third. On defense, the 21-year-old was usually one of the most dependable on the back line and his passion and energy for the badge are currently unmatched. Add the departures of defenders Depuy and Williams as well, and Galaxy fans could be looking at a brand-new back four this season.

Out wide, Grandsir and his compatriot, Kevin Cabral vacated the wings in Los Angeles. Homegrown Right Winger Cameron Dunbar also left to get playing time in Minnesota and the rumor all off-season has been that Douglas Costa is on his way out too. If Costa does leave, LA will certainly suffer for lack of width. Even if he doesn’t, the Brazilian’s recent injury will almost certainly keep him out of the Rose Bowl El Tráfico.

The team might lack leadership as well, with both veteran midfielders Víctor Vázquez and Sacha Kljestan leaving LA. The latter will join Apple’s coverage of the league, where his valuable insight will fill the airwaves instead of the Galaxy locker room.

Key players in: Memo Rodríguez (Left Midfield) Houston Dynamo, Chris Mavinga (Center Back), Tyler Boyd (Left Winger) Beşiktaş, Uri Rosell (Defensive Midfielder) Sporting Kansas City, Lucas Calegari (Right Back) Fluminense

Thanks to Costa’s recent injury, a quick check shows the Galaxy has only one fit winger besides recent arrival Tyler Boyd. Memo Rodríguez has been filling in at the position and do an admirable job during preseason, but he fits in more naturally in Vanney’s midfield. Not so with Boyd, who can play on either wing. The versatile and pacy attacker grew up watching the Galaxy during their glory years. Now, he’ll try to bring those days back.

“I used to support the Galaxy growing up as a kid,” Boyd confessed. “Me and my dad used to come to the games here. I’m over the moon to be here, I can call it home. This was my favorite club growing up, biggest club in the league … I’m ready to represent this shirt.”

The 28-year-old comes from Turkish club Beşiktaş, where he struggled to maintain a place in the first 11 and was sent out on loan. For the Galaxy, he’s shown moments of quality in the preseason, scoring on his debut and showing good speed despite him not having a full training camp. “Tyler is a highly motivated player with a wealth of experience, a high work rate, and a capacity to finish attacks. We look forward to integrating him into the team this season,” Vanney said of his new wide player. 

He should be an upgrade on Cabral at the position. If the Galaxy can get a DP-level winger for the opposite flank, look for Boyd being close to double digits in either goals or assists. He, Puig, and the opposite wing will create loads of space for each other.

The Galaxy needed to move quickly to replace Araujo, and it looks like they might have gotten the job done with Lucas Calegari. The 20-year-old is a young, experienced defender who has played for his club, Fluminense 80 times already. He’ll have a hard time replacing Araujo’s production, however, as he only has two assists in those appearances. The Galaxy will need to rush again to get Calegari to Los Angeles, who will need to sort out visa issues before he can join the team. Until then, Kelvin Leerdam will be the Galaxy’s starting right back. 

Young Player to Watch in the 2023 LA Galaxy Preview: Jalen Neal

Jalen Neal is the truth. At the Galaxy’s recent LA Kit Jersey unveiling, the 19-year-old mentioned he, “sometimes forgets he’s still a teenager.” Us too kid, us too. The talented homegrown product has already played for the USMNT twice and looked composed while doing it.

This season, Vanney expects Neal to finally take his place in the Galaxy defense. “This is going to be the year that Jalen Neal needs to take a step forward and provide us with some depth and growth,” Vanney told the LA Times. “Jalen is ready to start to step into the first-team environment.” Vanney added that all the minutes Neal has played had “been by design.”

So far, he’s looked every bit the player his coach expects him to be. During preseason, it’s been Neal, who directs the back line and looks more assured in possession, not his more experienced defensive partners. Last year, Dejan Joveljic was the “future of the Galaxy,” this year it’s Jalen.


Can Riqui Win MVP?

Short answer, yes.

The diminutive Spaniard clearly has the class to be. One look at Riqui in full flight on the field, and it’s evident he’s on a different wavelength. He announced himself to the league last year with a sumptuous pass to Chicharito that found the striker by the finest of margins. He showed he had an eye for the goal a few weeks later by taking off on a winding run and scoring a rocket against Toronto FC. Puig ended up with three goals and five assists in 10 MLS games played. More importantly, the midfielder was efficient. He ended up with a 92% pass completion rate while being constantly hounded by opposition defenses.

If teams had difficulty stopping him as a recent arrival last year, now that he’s had the benefit of a full off-season with his teammates, he should be scary good. He’s surely built rapport with them and is familiar with their games by now. For a player with such vision, this will allow Puig to be a constant threat on the pitch. Perhaps the most talented player on the Galaxy roster, if Puig can have a transcendent season, he might be able to carry the Galaxy into the playoffs all by himself.

A Full Season of the Chicha and Riqui Connection: 2023 LA Galaxy

The hope is, that he won’t have to. A fit Chicharito will surely link up with Puig, and a full season of Puig passes should allow Mexico’s all-time leading goalscorer to get to double-digit goals for the third year straight. If he doesn’t get pounded into an injury, Puig will put up double-digit assist numbers and can be the Galaxy’s third scoring option behind Chicharito and Joveljic. A DP-quality winger signing will be able to exploit Riqui Rocket’s ability to pick out a pass and get played in behind to stretch defenses where they too can get in on the goals.

What Will This Roster Look Like When the Transfer Window Closes?

The fact that the Galaxy is still building their roster less than a day away from their season opener has Galaxy Twitter at peak salt. Since the team cannot sign players in the secondary transfer window later in the season due to their transfer ban, it puts pressure on Sporting Director Vanney to get his signings right. Especially his vacant designated player spot. 

The club’s most-glaring roster hole is on the wing, so it’s almost a certainty that whatever DP signing is made, that player will occupy a flank at Dignity Health Sports Park. This makes the Isco and Marcelo rumblings troubling because neither can play the wing. Unless Vanney plans to continue to play Rodriguez or even Efrain Alvarez out of position, expect a wide player signing before deadline day, but not before El Tráfico. 

But when both your DP players are out for that showstopping game, it makes it even more important to get this signing right.

What Effect Will a Prolonged Boycott/Protest Have?

The LA Galaxy’s supporter groups have been protesting for over a month now, and they show no signs of slowing down as they call for Chris Klein’s job. On the night the Galaxy dropped the LA kit, the supporters made the hashtag Klein out the trend on Twitter. ESPN, The Sports Business Journal, The Guardian, and basically anyone else who covers Los Angeles Soccer has now picked up their cause. The assorted press has even started asking Galaxy players about the boycott at recent media availabilities. 

The team has responded by making sure they are appealing to fans’ sense of nostalgia. The recent LA Kit is a nod to two previous Galaxy jerseys and has links to the Los Angeles flag. Although the price of an authentic jersey could reach $200, some fans left with three or four shirts at the jersey release. The club also had Galaxy legend Robbie Keane implore the fans to join them at the Rose Bowl, while Puig posted about how much the team needed the supporters on his socials. Raheem Edwards took it a step further, by questioning whether his asking for the supporters to return to the stands was “a cry for help.”  

Inclement weather might make it, so we’ll never know just how impactful the boycott would have been at the Rose Bowl. While the Galaxy has announced nearly a sellout and the chance to break the all-time single-match attendance record in the U.S. Those following the boycott will finally get to see the extent of its damage when the Galaxy plays host to the Vancouver Whitecaps. If the club and its supporters haven’t reached a resolution by then, it might make for an awkward homecoming for both.

2023 LA Galaxy Season Review Conclusion and Predictions

Read More: 2023 Toronto FC Season: Cautious Optimism

MLS Season Prediction: Third in the Western Conference, Western Conference Final stage elimination; U.S. Open Cup: Semi-final elimination; Leagues Cup: Quarter-final elimination

This team is incomplete, so it’s impossible to pass judgment. If we take this team as it currently is, there is only a small chance it can sustain challenges in all competitions with the lack of depth, wingers, and DP quality. As such, the Galaxy would most likely have to prioritize the most important piece of silverware to them. In this case, it’s MLS Cup.

LA has the talent to mount a challenge if they get hot at the right time and as mentioned above, if Riqui goes MVP he can carry the team on his small shoulders. If Los Angeles can get production from other places besides their strikers, like Efrain Alvarez, perhaps, they could be the league’s Darkhorse despite all the distractions surrounding the club.

The Los Angeles Galaxy could be an MLS contender if they complete their roster with the right signings. (Photo Credit: LA Galaxy)


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