On deadline day, at exactly midnight in Spain, Alméria announced the signing of Brian Rodríguez. The full Uruguay international joins from Los Angeles FC, who signed the winger just 18 months ago. Rodríguez never managed to truly dazzle in the MLS, but now he has the chance to show his undeniable talent in Europe.
The 2000-born footballer managed to capture the imagination in Uruguay ever since his professional debut for Peñarol in March 2018. His directness, explosiveness and skillful footwork stood out, making him an immediate fan favourite. In full flow, he is a player that gets people off their seat.
Due to his good performances for Peñarol, Rodriguez was called up to the Uruguay U20 squad that competed in the 2019 youth World Cup. The team disappointingly crashed out of the competition in the round of 16, but Rodriguez made sure to catch the eye. 2 goals, 1 assist and overall a very impressive tournament led to Los Angeles FC acquiring his services for a club record fee of $11.5M in August 2019.
One month later, the 20-year-old from Tranqueras received his first senior call up from Uruguay manager Óscar Tabárez. Not even two years into his career, Rodríguez was given the chance to wear the beautiful sky. It was clear from the start that Tabárez liked the young player. He put him straight in the line-up and kept him there for 5 games in a row. The result; Uruguay won three times and drew twice, while Rodríguez scored three goals and gave the team a different outlook.
The presence of Suárez and Cavani means that over the last 10-15 years Uruguay have come accustomed to playing two up top, in front of a rigid midfield four who predominantly focus on defending. However, with the next generation of Uruguayan footballers imposing themselves, La Celeste are slowly but surely undergoing an identity shift towards a more modern setup.
One of the key components of this modern way of playing are the wide attacking positions. Take a look at the elite sides in Europe, the likes of Bayern Munich and Manchester City, they all play with wingers who can be a threat in front of goal and, even more important to their style of play, can stretch the opposing defense with their movement which is an invaluable asset for teams when they are tasked with breaking down defenses.
In this sense, Rodríguez is very much a modern winger with many excellent characteristics. Several Los Angeles FC fans would disagree, however. And their opinion is not unfounded. Rodriguez arrived with big expectations but he has never managed to fully convice for the MLS outfit, mainly because of his below par end product. On many occasions, the winger seemed to freeze in the box.
Whether this was a lack of confidence or the fact he was mainly deployed as a left winger, rather than his preferred right winger position, is up in the air. Despite his shortcomings in front of goal Rodríguez still demonstrated his silky dribbling capabilities, being among the five best dribblers in the MLS during his only full season in the competition.
Nonetheless, it’s clear that, despite being an exciting young player, Rodríguez has a lot of room for improvement. Who doesn’t at 20-years-of-age though? Salah at 20 was not the goal scoring winger he is presently known as and neither was Bruno Fernandes the devastating midfielder people have grown to love. What they both were back then is talented and willing to work hard, learn and improve as a player. These are the two decisive elements for any player who wants to reach the top and Brian Rodríguez, in my eyes, possesses both virtues.
Almería, a sensible next step?
The Spanish Segunda is a good environment for Rodríguez to make his first steps in Europe and grow as a player. Almería are currently 3rd in the league standings, which means they will be fighting for promotion in the second half of the season. The deal between Los Angeles FC and Almería is a six-month loan, but there is a purchase option included. If the winger manages to help the club promote to La Liga, a league which best suits his style of play according to himself, then it’s likely that Almería will sign Rodríguez on a permanent deal.
I have no doubts that Rodríguez is able to take this chance and break through in Europe over the next few years. He is undoubtedly one of the best players of the upcoming generation of Uruguayan footballers and has everything to become a world class player in Europe, and for the Uruguayan national team. Just like with Darwin Nunez, Almería have a ticking time bomb on their hands, ready to explode.