Joseph Paintsil bet on himself and has the LA Galaxy on the upswing in MLS

Joseph Paintsil has never been afraid to bet on himself.

Born in Ghana, he left his home as a teenager to go to Hungary and make his way as a professional soccer player. He had no contract and it was deadline day for the Hungarian league, but Paintsil needed just a half hour to impress Ferencváros manager Thomas Doll in a training session and get a contract offer.

When Ferencváros balked at a multi-year deal due to his lack of experience in Europe, Paintsil signed a loan deal that ran through the end of the season. He proceeded to score 10 goals in 25 games. When Ferencváros came to him at the end of the year with a new contract, Paintsil turned it down. Instead, Paintsil moved to Belgian side KRC Genk for a chance to bet on himself again. There, despite some ups and downs including a loan move to Turkey, Paintsil became one of the top players in Belgium.

So, when he was with the Ghanaian national team at the African Cup of Nations this January and got a call from his agent letting him know the LA Galaxy was interested, Paintsil said he needed to do just one thing to confirm his gut feeling.

“I called my twin sister,” he said, “because she came from the same stomach as me.”

His sister, Josephine, said Los Angeles was the right move.

Paintsil knew the history of big names like David Beckham and Zlatan Ibrahimovic who had been signed by the Galaxy. He knew coming to MLS in his prime meant he would be expected to produce like Galaxy greats Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan.

Paintsil said he was ready again to bet on himself.

“I’m not just coming just to enjoy the life of LA or California,” Paintsil said in a phone interview this week. “No, I came to also make a mark and also write my name in the book of the legacy, to have a trophy, to win a league. That’s the most important thing, to leave something so that when I also leave, like David Beckham, Ibrahimovic and the rest left behind, I can also be remembered like that.”

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It’s still early in his first season with the Galaxy, but so far Paintsil’s bet on himself again seems to be paying off. The Galaxy went undefeated through six games, their longest such streak to open a season since 2010, before a 2-1 loss at LAFC. Paintsil has two goals and two assists and has been a catalyst to the attack, opening up space with his pace and movement.

He has been exactly the type of player needed by the Galaxy – A franchise that once sat at the top of MLS and hasn’t advanced past the Western Conference quarterfinals since winning MLS Cup in 2014. The 2023 season was especially dire; despite boasting one of the most talented attacking players in MLS in Riqui Puig, the Galaxy finished second-to-last in the Western Conference and fourth from bottom of the league-wide standings. The Galaxy parted ways with two of their three allotted designated players (DPs) in winger Douglas Costa and forward Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, leaving them with plenty of room to add impact players.

Before the names of the two players who would fill those open designated player spots were determined, head coach Greg Vanney went to Puig with a message: Help was coming.

The Galaxy wanted wingers that could stretch the field. Too often, teams could press high against the Galaxy, compressing the midfield and taking space away from Puig. They needed threats to run in behind. Players who would be, as Vanney sometimes calls them, “space creators.” They also needed those players to be able to finish attacks.

“When we can get these guys,” Vanney told Puig, “it’s gonna open everything else up for you.”

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As the January transfer window approached, one name quickly floated to the very top of the list.

Paintsil had become a star in the Belgian League, netting 17 goals and adding 12 assists across all competitions in 2022-23. He was explosive, productive and in his prime. There was just one issue: Vanney had scouted him earlier in his career with Genk, but the price tag was too much. Now, a few years later, he was still too expensive.

“Maybe we reach out and we see if there’s a buyout clause that doesn’t make this thing impossible,” Vanney suggested.

The Galaxy’s director of scouting, Michael Stephens, made some calls. Indeed, Paintsil had a buyout: €8 million (about $8.6 million).

It was more than the Galaxy had budgeted for, but they felt it was a no-brainer.

“We were saying, ‘Hey, we’re getting a guy who is a legitimate, MVP-caliber player who’s performed at a very high level in a very good league who’s in his prime,” said Galaxy general manager Will Kuntz, who joined the team just after the 2023 to help right the ship. “Just so many of the right boxes were ticked. That gave us the confidence to go and say, ‘This is our guy.’”

Paintsil, along with the Galaxy’s other big-name offseason signing, 23-year-old Brazilian Gabriel Pec, have delivered on the message Vanney gave Puig at the end of last season. Puig has two goals and two assists, Mark Delgado has one goal and four assists and forward Dejan Joveljic has five goals, tied for second-best in MLS.

The Galaxy can beat teams off the counter, and the players ahve shown they are capable of playing through a press. They now force teams to always respect the space behind them. Joveljic, especially, has found more room to operate in the box as teams have to constantly worry about the wingers.

“It’s really a great chemistry,” Paintsil said. “We have a great bond now, as you can see. Both wingers have goals, Riqui has goals and assists, Dejan is also scoring, so it’s something that is really dangerous. We have a long way to go and I think what we are doing now, if we keep on doing it and believing in each other, I think we’re going to really kill a lot of clubs with our offensive style of play.”

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Paintsil has been the key to it all so far, and not just because of how he unbalances teams with his speed. Vanney called him a “sophisticated” player who has a high-level understanding of the team game, noting Paintsil’s timing in his runs, his ability to make the final pass and, of course, to finish. Vanney said the fact that Paintsil arrived from a club where the expectation was to win has helped, too.

Paintsil’s drive is evident. For a team like the Galaxy that is trying to prove they can compete at the very top of the league again, that type of leadership has been critical.

“He’s aware of what it takes to leave a legacy behind and that’s one of the reasons why he came here, to help the club be successful and for him to be successful in the process and leave a legacy and make a mark,” Vanney said. “That’s something that I’ve learned over the years. The DPs, especially guys like Sebastian Giovinco, who come in their prime, and Jozy (Altidore) when he came back in his prime, and Michael (Bradley), is they come back for a different reason. They want to create a legacy, build a legacy, be a really important player at a club like the Galaxy or somewhere, and they want to be winners, they want to lift trophies and etch their name in stone somewhere and be important in those places.

“He has that same demeanor and feel about him as I got from those guys, and he’s gonna help this team be successful.”

Source: The Athletic


Mr Riddims

Mr Riddims, CEO of Riddims Ghana Network who is a Blogger | Artiste Promoter | Website Designer | Radio DJ | Artiste Manager | Music Distributer etc.

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