Conquering America

Marco D’Onofrio takes a deep dive into Douglas Costa’s winter move to the Los Angeles Galaxy

When Douglas Costa opted to make the move across the pond and try a new experience in Major League Soccer, many were left wondering what the 31-year-old was still able to bring to the table following his rather unsuccessful loan spell with Gremio in Brazil. The veteran hadn’t exactly been obliterating the opposition in his native land, scoring three goals and providing just two assists in 26 appearances for Gremio. However, it has become abundantly clear that the Galaxy believe in the winger considering they have signed him as a Designated Player through the 2023 season.

“Douglas is a world-class player and a proven champion at the highest level. His capacity to create and finish will add yet another level to our attack,” said Los Angeles Galaxy head coach Greg Vanney when Costa was signed. “We are excited to integrate him into the team as we push toward the start of the season.”

Costa not only gives the Galaxy one of the league’s top wingers, but he also provides the club with international exposure considering how well known he is around the globe. He has three goals and six assists in 31 appearances for Brazil and has represented his country at both a Copa America and a World Cup. He would also have played in the Copa America Centenario that was held in the United States in 2016, but a left thigh injury forced him to pull out of that tournament.

“Douglas is an exceptional talent who has played at some of the biggest clubs in the world,” said LA Galaxy technical director Jovan Kirovski. “He is a big addition to our team, and we believe he will be a difference-maker in MLS.”

The move is an initial six-month loan from Gremio, with the player signing a one-and-a-half-year deal with the Galaxy following it. He will obviously need some time to adapt to his new surroundings, but the skillset he provides the Galaxy is undeniable – even if he is no longer in the prime of his career. The Brazilian is also confident that it will work out.

“I wasn’t worried about coming here and adapting,” Costa said, via the Los Angeles Daily News. “It was more about doing something new and coming to a new country.”
“Truthfully, I feel great, my teammates have done everything to help me adapt,” he said. “I’m still adapting. It’s a new league that’s still growing. I’m happy to be here.”
He also seems to be fitting in well with his teammates, confirming that fellow Designated Player Javier Hernandez has played a big role in helping him get settled in.
“Chicharito has been one of the first players, alongside Victor Vazquez, to make sure I’ve adapted quickly to the team and on the field,” Costa said. “We’re trying to make sure we’re connecting and making scoring opportunities for the team.”

The Brazilian was able to find the back of the net for the first time in MLS against the Seattle Sounders in just his third game in the North American top-flight after working out a set-piece play with Chicharito. He is quickly becoming an important part of Vanney’s side and gives the tactician plenty of options given his creativity on the ball and the space he frees up for his teammates.
“I think as his legs get under him over more time, he’ll continue to be more dangerous in and around the goal,” Vanney said. “I feel like whenever he’s on the ball, we can be very dangerous. Because he’s hard to stop in the one-on-one, which means he can get into different types of space. I’m pleased with the progression.”

Costa has been searching for a new home since leaving Juventus to join Bayern Munch on loan in October 2020 and it looks like he may finally have found one in Los Angeles after a couple of difficult seasons. While he did manage to win the Bundesliga title with Bayern, he didn’t contribute a whole lot and was returned to Juventus at the conclusion of the campaign. He was then loaned out to Gremio in Brazil, before joining the Galaxy as a Designated Player.

Despite the plethora of experience he has playing around the globe, there are still some unique aspects to MLS and soccer in North America that may take a little while longer to get used to. Unlike most other top leagues, MLS has a salary cap system in place ensuring parity across the board. MLS has never seen a team with nine consecutive championships like Juventus did in Serie A. There is also the aspect that some MLS teams play on turf, which is extremely rare in Europe.

“Most games are even, there’s not one team that’s above another. Playing on turf, it’s something that has been a problem for me to adapt to. I didn’t have that when I played in Brazil.”
The Brazilian is not the only European arrival to have an issue with some of the turf pitches in MLS, with Sebastian Giovinco often criticizing the hybrid grass pitch at BMO Field during his time in Toronto. But he will have to learn to make the most of it as it isn’t going away anytime soon. There are currently eight teams across the league playing on either hybrid grass, field turf or polytan.
“We continue to put sand on the grass,” Giovinco said famously back in 2018. “The (CFL) Argos play (there), TFC 2 plays (there). Everybody plays on this field and every game we lose a player (to injury). This is not possible.”

Fortunately for Costa, the Galaxy play their home games at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson which has real grass. There have been few if any complaints over the years by Galaxy players or opponents about the pitch. Costa is far from the Galaxy’s first high-profile signing either.

The club has been known to splash the cash on international superstars when needed. After all, they were the club that was able to convince David Beckham to make the move to MLS and as a result, helped create the Designated Player rule in the first place. Besides Beckham, the likes of Robbie Keane, Steven Gerrard, Giovani and Jonathan dos Santos, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and of course the aforementioned Hernandez are just some of the internationally recognizable names the Galaxy have signed over the years.
It will not necessarily be easy for Costa to live up to some of the expectations set by previous Designated Players considering Keane helped the Galaxy win three MLS Cups and a Supporters Shield during his time with the organization. However, the club have missed out on the playoffs in four of the past five seasons and haven’t had very much success since winning three MLS Cups in four seasons from 2011-2014.

It’ll be interesting to keep an eye on Costa and the Galaxy this season as Vanney continues to shape the team in the way that he sees fit. He arrived in Los Angeles last year after spending six-and-a-half seasons with Toronto FC, helping them win their first ever MLS Cup in 2017. He is hoping to find the same success with the Galaxy and may have assembled the squad to do it. While there are still questions surrounding Costa, if Vanney can get the most out of his newest weapon, then the potential for Los Angeles in 2022 is unlimited considering all the talent they already have.

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