Galaxy is upbeat because Riqui Puig and ‘Chicharito’ will be back.
Chris Klein’s 5-year-old nephew had a costume picked out for Halloween, but at the last minute he had a change of heart, which is how Klein, the Galaxy president, found himself rushing to the boy’s house last week with a soccer uniform in the back seat of his car.
“He was going to be a superhero,” Klein said. “He has now shifted and wants to be Riqui Puig.”
It’s really not much of a change considering Puig was probably the closest thing MLS had to a superhero this season. When he joined the league in mid-August, the Galaxy were circling the drain, pointed toward their fifth postseason miss in six seasons. Fans were paying to have banners flown over the team’s stadium calling for Klein to be fired.
With Puig, the Galaxy lost just one of their final 10 regular-season games, opened the playoffs at home and made it to the Western Conference semifinals. And with the Spanish midfielder signed for another three seasons, the offseason got a lot easier for Klein and coach Greg Vanney.
“The progress that we’ve made as a club and the possibility that we can continue to evolve and continue to get better, I am greatly encouraged by that,” Klein said. “Some of the players that we were able to bring in was evidence of our process.”
The team was even better off the field, setting records for ticket revenue and sponsorships, Klein said. But the Galaxy also extended another franchise record by missing the MLS Cup final for an eighth consecutive season.
For the five-time league champions, winning trophies is only one way to measure success, however
“Our goal every year is [the] MLS Cup,” Klein said. “But we want to build something good and sustainable. And I have great belief that is exactly what [Vanney] is doing.”
The Galaxy head into the winter with much of their foundation for next season under contract. Eight of the 11 starters in the playoff loss to LAFC will be back, including captain Javier “Chicharito” Hernández, the team’s leading scorer each of the last two seasons, designated players Douglas Costa and Kevin Cabral and the midfield of Puig, Gastón Brugman and Mark Delgado.
In addition, the team is expected to exercise contract options on goalkeeper Jonathan Bond and center backs Sega Coulibaly and Martín Cáceres before the Nov. 14 deadline, although Cáceres, 35, who will play in his fourth World Cup for Uruguay this month, could choose retirement.
The MLS offseason begins Nov. 7 with a 24-hour trade window followed by the expansion draft Nov. 11 and the start of free agency Nov. 16.
Klein said when Vanney was hired before the 2021 season, he laid out an ambitious multiyear plan to rebuild not just the first team, but the Galaxy’s entire soccer operation, including scouting and the player-development system. The midseason acquisitions of Puig, Brugman and Cáceres were the most visible fruits of that labor because they allowed Vanney to play the kind of short-passing possession-type game he prefers.
“I’m pleased where we are in terms of our core and how we’ve continued to build and move forward,” Vanney said. “The excitement of the offseason is trying to find those little pieces where you can maybe improve. I like to have a lot of continuity but there’s always going to be some change from season to season.”
Deepening the roster will be one goal with the monthlong Leagues Cup tournament entering an already crowded schedule that will have many MLS teams playing a record number of games next season. Although one player Vanney doesn’t see joining the team for 2023 is Luis Suárez, a two-time European scoring leader now playing in Uruguay.
Media reports said Suárez was in talks to join the Galaxy in January, a development technical director Jovan Kirovski did not dispute. But Vanney, who already has three designated players and the second-highest payroll in MLS at $27.3 million, suggested last week he didn’t need Suárez.
“We’re very happy with our forwards. So it’s not a position of what I would call a need,” he said.
There is one other contract AEG, the Galaxy’s parent company, has to weigh, though, and that’s the one belonging to Klein, who just finished his 10th season as club president. Klein’s most recent five-year contract expires this winter.
Klein said he and Dan Beckerman, the CEO of AEG, “are on the same page” but have not reached a deal. The Galaxy have lost more games than they’ve won over the last five seasons, but they made the playoffs twice in that span and in August the team announced a five-year sponsorship renewal with Herbalife Nutrition worth more than $7 million a season, a jump of nearly 60%.
Klein also denied reports the team is exploring a rebrand.
“We’re proud of our club, proud of our brand,” he said. “Our Galaxy brand is as good as it’s ever been and you’ll see the same one come February.”