nSince time immemorial, Ricky Puig has been seen as the face of Barcelona’s future. At a time when the identity of the Catalan club was in question, the young midfielder was the embodiment of what Barcelona aspires to once again. He ticked all the boxes: diminutive, domestic and extremely talented. Puig was the next La Masia graduate set to be big at the Camp Nou, so it’s somewhat surprising to see the 22-year-old now in Major League Soccer.
The Los Angeles Galaxy Puig announced the signing of a three-year deal on Thursday with Barcelona keen to cut a bloated wage bill that has allowed the midfielder to leave for free. “Rickoy is a very technical and well-educated player with incredible experiences for his age,” said Galaxy coach Greg Fannie. “It will fit seamlessly into our group and style of play.”
In any other summer, this would be a major headline-grabbing transition that includes a file MLS The club is, perhaps, still one of the most noteworthy activities of the summer due to Puig’s age and reputation. However, this summer has not been a regular in the MLS. There have been many historical deals made across the league. In fact, this was the biggest summer in MLS history.
Puig’s move to LA Galaxy comes just a month later Los Angeles He completed the signing of Gareth Bale and only three weeks after Federico Bernardeschi arrived at Toronto FC. None of these players are typical MLS deals for retirement. They are far from washed out. They are not in the MLS for one final paycheck. They had other options closer to home in the traditionally stronger leagues, but chose to sign at an MLS club instead. This says something.
Of course, the big names have moved to MLS in the past. David Beckham, Thierry Henry, Didier Drogba, Steven Gerrard, Kaka, Frank Lampard and David Villa all played in MLS, but they all did so in the later stages of their careers. These agreements have made MLS a destination in the transfer market, but only for those looking for an ultimate destination.
This is where a dramatic transformation took place this summer. It’s not just the aging superstars who consider MLS an option, they are the elite at their peak as well. According to reports, Puig has received offers from Lyon, Monaco and Wolves. He also rejected loan offers to leave Barcelona in the January transfer window, but it was the LA Galaxy that turned his head. If the Galaxy could get one or two Puigs to contract before sending it back to Europe at a profit, that would be considered a huge success. This could be the plan for all parties and could form the core of a transfer policy that attracts more prime-age players from Europe in the coming years.
Bale was linked with clubs in the Premier League and had the option of playing for his hometown team Cardiff City, but decided that MLS would be the best place for him to prepare for the 2022 World Cup. Bernardeschi is also an important figure for his country alongside his Italy teammate Lorenzo Insigne, who has also joined the Toronto FC from Serie A this summer. Neither of them believes that moving to MLS will necessarily affect their international career.
Cucho Hernandez does not have a well-known name for the aforementioned players but at the age of 23 he is still in the early stage of his career. Fresh from a season that saw him score five times in 25 Premier League games for Watford, it is notable that he also ended up in Major League Soccer this summer, signing with Columbus Crew in a club record deal.
It is not only in the transfers made by MLS clubs that this transition has taken place this summer, but in some transfers it has not been made. Jesse Lingard, for example, was reportedly on DC United’s radar shortly after Wayne Rooney’s appointment as a head coach. In the end, Lingard remained in the Premier League and signed a contract with Nottingham Forest on a contract believed to be worth £180,000 a week, but links with DC United bear credibility. it was possible.
MLS finds itself at a critical juncture in its development. The league is openly looking to be one of the best teams in the world and with every signing like Puig, Bale and Bernardeschi, the needle is getting a little closer to becoming a reality. The record-breaking $2.5 billion streaming deal recently signed with Apple TV was another sign of progress while the 2026 World Cup will be an opportunity to reach even more fans.
But MLS may have to free up its 28 (soon to be 29) member clubs in order to accelerate its growth. Philadelphia Union athletic director Ernest Tanner publicly questioned how LAFC was able to squeeze Bale and Giorgio Chiellini under the salary cap with the pair signing TAM (Target Allocation Money) deals. While Tanner has been fined by MLS for his remarks, and there is no indication of any rule-breaking by LAFC, there is a feeling that front-office personalities across the league have to think creatively to sign the players they want. MLS can make their lives easier by raising the salary cap and delegating clubs to spend more. One could argue that MLS is now reining in itself.
It can be boring to watch everything that happens in Major League Soccer from the perspective of the league’s continued growth and place in the global soccer scene, but this summer has made such rhetoric inevitable. Was Puig going to sign for LA Galaxy even 12 months ago? Was Bale going to use MLS to prepare for the last World Cup in 2018? Probably not, but more and more players are not looking at what the league was in the past, or even what it could be in the future, but what it is now.