By Doug McIntyre
FOX Sports activities Soccer Author
When 27-year-old Sebastian Giovinco left his hometown membership Juventus for Main League Soccer‘s Toronto FC in 2015, it was seen as a game-changer.
By no means earlier than had a bona fide European star in his prime — the “Atomic Ant” had 21 caps for Italy’s nationwide group when he swapped Serie A for TFC — left the continent to play within the high circuit in the USA and Canada.
To that time in its historical past, MLS had a considerably unfair popularity as a spot the place getting old European stars may play just a few additional years and earn just a few additional million earlier than calling it a profession. Whereas the overwhelming majority of the league’s overseas gamers really had been 20-somethings, the sight of Didier Drogba and Frank Lampard working round MLS fields as 38-year-olds did nothing to alter this notion.
Giovinco was completely different. The Turin native was an prompt hit, profitable league MVP honors that season and anchoring the assault for a group that may go on to hoist MLS Cup two years later.
Absolutely different European blue chippers would look to emulate Giovinco’s success and transfer to MLS.
Seven years later, it is really occurring. On Thursday, the LA Galaxy introduced the signing of 22-year-old Barcelona midfielder Riqui Puig.
Puig’s stunning arrival comes on the heels of one other final month, when 28-year-old Italian nationwide teamer Federico Bernardeschi adopted Giovinco’s path and swapped Juve for Toronto. The subtext is evident: If this summer season is any indication, MLS is slowly however absolutely rising as a respectable possibility for gamers who nonetheless have loads left to provide and no scarcity of alternate options on the very highest stage.
MLS is not there but. Puig was solely accessible to the Galaxy as a result of he is not in Barça coach Xavi’s plans. Like Bernardeschi, who wasn’t re-signed by Juve, Puig did not require a switch payment.
It nonetheless says one thing, although, that each gamers discovered MLS enticing sufficient to signal on the dotted line. Leaving Europe can include prices; transferring to Toronto successfully ended Giovinco’s worldwide profession.
That is why a lot of the family names that landed in MLS this season are nonetheless of the older selection, stars whose greatest years are in all probability behind them. Lorenzo Insigne, Bernardeschi’s teammate with each the Azzurri and the Reds, is 31. LAFC’s Gareth Bale and Giorgio Chiellini are 33 and 37, respectively. Houston Dynamo midfielder Hector Herrera, who was signed from Atletico Madrid, is 32. Chicago Fireplace ahead Xherdan Shaqiri is 30.
League legends like David Beckham, Thierry Henry, Kaka and David Villa had been all additionally of their early 30s once they made their North American debuts.
As extra funding pours into MLS forward of the 2026 FIFA World Cup co-hosted by the U.S., Canada and Mexico, MLS may change into a much bigger draw for youthful European-based stars.
It is already change into a vacation spot for a few of South America’s high younger expertise. Paraguayan winger Miguel Almiron, who helped Atlanta win a title earlier than being bought to Premier League Newcastle for round $30 million in 2019, is essentially the most notable instance. The 5 Stripes turned a tidy revenue on Almiron — Atlanta paid simply $8 million for him three years earlier — though they nonetheless have not discovered a substitute nearly as good.
Can Puig make an analogous influence? He managed simply two targets and three assists in 57 appearances for Barcelona, most of them off the bench. However he has additionally proven flashes of brilliance. Given his pedigree, he’ll be anticipated to be among the many greatest attackers in MLS as soon as he settles into his new surroundings. (The Los Angeles Occasions is already referring to Puig because the Galaxy’s “savior.”)
Puig can also be younger sufficient that he can nonetheless return to Europe and understand his full potential on the high stage. Whereas his contract with the five-time MLS champs runs by way of 2025, it comprises a clause that offers Barcelona first dibs to deliver him again. Barça would obtain half of any switch payment ought to one other membership come calling for Puig’s companies.
Puig would not be the primary former Galaxy participant to return to the most important stage after a goal-filled sojourn in Southern California; nearly three years after leaving MLS, 40-year-old Zlatan Ibrahimovic lately inked a one-year extension with Italian champ AC Milan.
Loads of eyes on each side of the Atlantic will probably be watching intently to see how Puig fares in MLS. Ought to he succeed, it is laborious to think about the following younger European star being far behind.
One of many main soccer journalists in North America, Doug McIntyre has coated United States males’s and girls’s nationwide groups at a number of FIFA World Cups. Earlier than becoming a member of FOX Sports activities in 2021, he was a employees author with ESPN and Yahoo Sports activities. Comply with him on Twitter @ByDougMcIntyre.
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