The previous season brought nearly every possible emotion for supporters of one of the league’s most storied franchises. A last-place finish the year before had expectations at a minimum, but impending completion of Audi Field, D.C.’s first soccer-specific stadium, gave enough reason to overlook on-field results, at least for the time being. Fast forward and the blockbuster signing of English star Wayne Rooney gave way to a dramatic mid-season turnaround and an eventual playoff birth.
Now, a new signing early in the offseason could further position D.C. to be a contender in the Eastern Conference heading into the 2019 campaign.
Atlanta United have become the league’s standard-bearer when it comes to utilizing young South American talent, riding the contributions of offensive stars Miguel Almirón, Josef Martínez, and Héctor Villalba as well as the defensive prowess of Leandro González Pírez to an MLS Cup title in the club’s second year of existence. Nicknamed “La Joya”, D.C.’s own Argentine standout Luciano Acosta has been nothing less than a jewel in a midfield unit lacking in both experience and depth in recent years. Rooney’s addition quickly helped manufacture one of the league’s most exciting and productive partnerships (22 goals and 24 assists between the two).
In steps 21-year-old Lucas Rodríguez, an attacking midfielder set to make the jump to MLS on loan from Argentine outfit Estudiantes de la Plata. A report on Christmas Day from Argentine journalist Cesar Luis Merlo bolstered previous stories from SB Nation’s Black and Red United and The Washington Post’s Steven Goff. On New Year’s Eve the club made the transfer official, and while they are undisclosed, the fees are believed to be between $500,000 and $700,000 for the loan deal and a permanent purchase option falling in the range of $2.5-3 million. Because Atlanta originally obtained discovery rights, D.C. were forced to send $50,000 to the Five Stripes.
The most obvious aspect of Rodríguez’s acquisition that will have United supporters buzzing is the prospect of him lining up alongside countrymen Acosta (also a former teammate) and Yamil Asad. According to Goff, D.C. first came across Rodríguez while chasing Acosta, who also first joined on a loan deal. Born in 1997 in Buenos Aires, Rodríguez is a product of the Estudiantes youth academy and made his first appearance for the first team in July of 2015. He has been a fixture in the club’s lineup over the past two campaigns, appearing in 53 league matches and 12 Copa Libertadores affairs.
Rodríguez’s strengths bode well for a youthful midfield committed to short, quick combinations, drawing fouls, and a collective willingness to take on defenders in 1v1 battles. The 21-year-old is able to play both behind the striker as well as out wide in addition to a more traditional midfield role, bringing valuable versatility to the squad. Furthermore, he has displayed an acute desire to perform defensive duties. If D.C. are to hold onto Yamil Asad, Zoltan Stieber becomes a candidate to meet the chopping block.
With a new stadium to call home and marquee signings increasingly becoming the norm, a rejuvenated fan base in the nation’s capital has plenty of reason to be optimistic heading into the 2019 season, a breath of fresh air just one year removed from a bottom-of-the-table finish.
Wesley is a graduate of the University of Alabama (BA) and the University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign (MA). He currently works in youth soccer in Austin, Texas, and can be found on Twitter.