It's officially official. Brian Rodriguez is the fourth Designated Player in LAFC history.
A skillful, young attacker, Rodriguez is coming to LA via a familiar path.
If any of this sounds familiar to you, it's ok. You're not experiencing deja vu. Rodriguez starred in an international tournament with Uruguay's U-20s. He won silverware with Uruguayan powerhouse Peñarol as a teenager. And he's been on the radar of plenty of clubs ever since.
It's nearly identical to the trajectory Diego Rossi took to becoming the second Designated Player in Club history. In fact, Rodriguez and Rossi both signed for LAFC at the same age of 19 from Peñarol.
"He's an exciting player. He certainly fits the way we play and our ability to go forward quickly," Bob Bradley said of Rodriguez. "We try to get our most skillful players going on the move at defenders and we're excited to work with him. And I know it will be great for all of our fans to see him at the Banc."
When I hear the words like that from the LAFC head coach to describe Rodriguez, I'm intrigued. Couple that with his pedigree at Peñarol and the similarities to Rossi's arrival, and though I tried, I gave in to the urge. Which, of course, meant I went down a rabbit hole of YouTube highlight videos - what can I say, I'm a fan, too.
So after thoroughly checking to make sure my computer's volume was way down low - we've got to do something about the soundtracks of these highlight reels - I tucked into as many videos of Rodriguez's time with Peñarol and the Uruguayan U-20s as I could.
And I have some thoughts:
Energetic On The Ball
A cursory glance at Rodriguez and you immediately notice his close control. Where Rodriguez goes, the ball is never far behind.
As far as wide forwards go, Bob Bradley likes attackers that can get into dangerous inside areas - which is why LAFC don't really deploy wingers per se. Rodriguez played on the right a fair amount with Uruguay's U-20s and was as comfortable cutting onto his weaker foot to link up with other attackers but he also looks adept at pushing the ball around a defender on the outside.
With that willingness to play off either foot, Rodriguez's pace is difficult to handle for defenders. On the move in 1v1 situations, he looks handy enough to maintain possession when maneuvering into tight areas but he's also quick to recognize when he's got a step, then looks to separate quickly from the defender.
A Willing Presser
You never used to see defensive actions in highlight videos of attackers. Now it's almost a must in the modern game.
Highlights aren't going to register the full scale of a players ability to affect matches with their work rate in pressing instances or reactions when the ball turns over, but you get the sense Rodriguez is willing to get after it. In a lot of ways, that's the key ingredient for LAFC.
The Black & Gold are devastating when the reaction of the closest man to the ball is sharp and precise. That doesn't always mean winning the ball right away. Sometimes it's simply delaying a player or forcing them to go sideways with an extra touch. The further up the pitch that occurs, the easier it is for LAFC's midfield to cut off passing lanes or help double to win the ball back.
Rodriguez's willingness to do that kind of work at Peñarol and with the Uruguay U20s bodes well for his acclimation to LAFC's game model.
Rodriguez is definitely not shy about setting up teammates.
While his goalscoring rate with Peñarol was a work in progress, Rodriguez still affected a lot of score lines. His ability to pick out the right pass at speed looks particularly appetizing for this LAFC side. Having that ability to find the killer pass is something many young players lack at 19. Rodriguez seems to have a good idea of how to get into areas that force opponents to him and then slip a pass to a teammate in a central area.
Rodriguez has no problems creating opportunities with his pace and technical ability coming inside from the right or left. And if his play at the U20 World Cup is any indicator, he's finding ways to create more shooting opportunities for himself as well. Now imagine it's Carlos Vela, Diego Rossi, or Adama Diamonde getting on the end of the final pass instead of having to create as well.
For a team that already has a +38 goal differential that seems like a luxury. For LAFC, it's a reaffirmation of the Club's aspirations.