Miki Yamane is officially presented as an LA Galaxy player as he and Riqui Puig join the preseason training camp. Recent press conferences from Will Kuntz and Greg Vanney shed light on players from the injury list and transfer market who will be joining the group soon.
After touching down in Los Angeles on Tuesday, Miki Yamane made his first official appearance in Galaxy colors on Thursday, January 25th. During his first training session at Dignity Health Sports Park, Yamane spent the morning completing physical tests. Later, he answered some questions in his debut LA Galaxy press conference.
Yamane touched on some of the differences between the MLS and football in Japan, where he won two J1 Leauge titles, two Emperor’s Cup titles, and one Japanese Super Cup, before sharing his goals for his time in the United States. He highlighted how the MLS has a greater emphasis on physicality and that he looks forward to putting his strength to use.
While he may not need to develop much physically in LA, personal growth seems to be an important objective for Yamane while he is here. When asked by Alex Ruiz about his motivations for leaving Japan, he answered, “[I] really wanted to prove myself in a new challenging environment and…[I] wanted to put myself out there to improve as a soccer player and as a person.”
There will be plenty of challenges for Yamane to face throughout the upcoming season, but for now, he and Greg Vanney are focused on getting the player integrated so he can begin to help the squad. In his presser, Vanney mentioned that since arriving on Tuesday, Yamane has been adjusting from long flights and his new surroundings. After completing an introductory session on Thursday, Yamane will join the rest of the group in training on Friday.
In regards to what Yamane will add to the squad, Vanney explained that “His experience on the defensive side could be helpful for us.” Last year, Vanney’s team conceded a club-record 67 goals. Yamane’s defensive discipline and connection with Japanese National Team captain Maya Yoshida are expected to help cut this number in half in 2024.
Vanney’s presser also contained lots of details about the team’s injured players and their expected timelines.
Riqui Puig is the player who is closest to making their full return. After reporting to training camp alongside Miki Yamane on Tuesday, Puig had physicals on Wednesday and completed gym and fieldwork on Thursday. On Friday, team doctors will examine Puig’s ankle and determine how he has recovered from the injury that took him out of the team late last season. From conversations he’s had with the player, Vanney anticipates that his recovery should be smooth and he will be ready to play when the team heads to the Coachella Valley Invitational on February 4th.
After Puig, defender Martin Caceres is expected to return to match fitness next. He is further along in his recovery and has joined the team for some training sessions already this preseason but is still working on getting up to speed. Based on what he’s seen, Vanney expects Caceres to be fully reintegrated into the squad over the next week.
The coach’s projections have Daniel Aguirre returning sometime after Martin Caceres. Aguirre suffered a minor MCL strain during last year’s season finale against FC Dallas. His recovery could be in its final stages and Vanney reports that he has already been an intermittent participant in training sessions. While he won’t be available for the closed-doors friendly against the San Jose Earthquakes on Saturday, Aguirre could be a feature in the preseason tournament.
Gaston Brugman is also well along the road to recovery, but his availability for preseason matches is more difficult to guarantee. Vanney shared how Brugman has only very recently returned to training on a field. So far, he has not trained with the ball but it will be added as he progresses with building fitness and resistance. Vanney states the objective is for Brugman to begin playing by Coachella or within 2-3 weeks of the season opener.
Jalen Neal is the player who seems furthest away from match fitness. Last September, Neal’s season was cut short as he underwent surgery for a sports hernia injury. This initial injury led to a smaller groin knock which he is currently nursing.
Regarding his timeline for a return to play, Vanney claims, “Getting Jalen healthy and into full training has been a slow process. He’s still in the final little stages of healing and getting out there.” Despite recovery being such a lengthy process for him, Neal has previously mentioned that he expects to be ready for the season opener on February 25th.
Once Neal and the rest of the injury list return to action, General Manager Will Kuntz will feel that the team is nearly ready to compete. When asked about any remaining gaps in the roster, Kuntz said, “In adding depth and experience and a little bit of versatility we’ve ticked off the biggest items we’ve had for ourselves in the offseason.” Having built up the squad’s core, Kuntz has turned his attention to securing Designated Players.
In his first press conference of the season, Kuntz mentioned how the team is very close to securing one DP and is in a very good way with another. From last week’s reporting, it’s been gathered that Gabriel Pec and Joseph Paintsil are the players who most closely match Kuntz’s description.
With Gabriel Pec’s contract reportedly signed and waiting to be announced, the Galaxy’s main project these days has been sealing the deal with Joseph Paintsil. While there have been various contradicting reports regarding his future, the Paintsil situation has not changed and remains as follows: Genk has received and accepted an $8.5M offer from the LA Galaxy and the move is pending the player’s approval before going through.
Now that Ghana has been eliminated from AFCON and Paintsil has returned to his current team, a decision feels imminent. Paintsil may represent Genk again before making his choice but would still be free to leave should he accept the Galaxy’s offer.
For their part, the LA Galaxy are either negotiating with Paintsil, waiting for the agreement to be announced, or pursuing their next transfer targets. The Galaxy will be wise to continue working on this deal quietly but even their apparent inactivity is suggestive.
Considering how quickly new names came up when the Galaxy moved on from players earlier in the window and how the club is yet to be connected to any new rumors, it may be that LA has all of its pieces already in place. Until new reporting emerges there is no reason to believe that the deal with Paintsil is dead. This momentary silence in regards to transfer rumors could be the calm before the storm.
Transfers are a tricky business and it is important to remember that until the contracts have been signed, Paintsil or any other player is just as far from Carson as they could be close. Stay plugged into all the official moves by following Nuestra Galaxia Fútbolera on X and Instagram. Subscribe to LAX Sports Nation and follow us on social media to enhance your fan experience.
PHOTO: LA Galaxy