Hardly anyone saw this coming.
Earlier today, Mexican reporter Raúl Guzman announced via Twitter that Norwegian-American midfielder Mix Diskerud was on the verge of signing with Club Tijuana Xoloitzcuintles de Caliente in Liga MX:
"Well, @XolosOficial is set to announce the signing of @MixDiskerud. I think that this should be considered one of the winter's best signings." (original in Spanish).
The club, better known as Xolos, has gotten a bit of a reputation for signing American players over the last few years. Currently, Joe Corona, Paul Arriola, and Greg Garza all play for Xolos; Esteban Rodriguez and Herculez Gomez are on loan to Sinaloa and Puebla, respectively.
If Guzman's report is correct -- and there's been no official confirmation from either Diskerud or Xolos, as of this evening -- it makes for a surprising move on the surface. Diskerud was linked with MLS as recently as August; that's when Columbus Crew SC made him a substantial contract offer, which would've seen him become the Crew's second designated player. Previously, Diskerud was linked to the Portland Timbers. In both cases, negotiations foundered, with the MLS clubs blaming the intransigence of Diskerud's father Pål, who acts as the player's agent.
Rumors also linked Diskerud to New York City. New York City has stated that they plan on signing three designated players by the time the team kicks off its inaugural season in March. Since the team holds the top spot in the allocation order, the USMNT fan favorite was seen as a potential third DP. However, there were never any substance to the rumors, and they eventually died down.
The more you consider things, however, the more the move makes sense for both sides.
In Diskerud's case, he moves from Norway's Tippeligaen -- where his contract was set to expire in two weeks -- to a harder, more technically difficult league in Liga MX. In doing so, he joins a team that is a regular contender for silverware: Xolos won the 2012 Apertura title, made it to the quarterfinals of the 2013 Copa LIbertadores, and made the semifinals of the 2014 CONCACAF Champions League. I
For Xolos, Diskerud provides much-needed help in the midfield, as well as giving them a versatile midfielder, which they don't really have right now. Historically, Diskerud's been more of a multi-varied midfielder than an out-and-out creative playmaker; in other words, he does a lot of things well without actually excelling in any one area. Will Parchman breaks down Diskerud as a player here; you should read it, because he explains what Diskerud is and isn't good at doing on the field.
By joining Xolos, Diskerud is finally taking on a bigger challenge. Liga MX is undoubtedly a much better league than the Tippeligaen; it's certainly a better league than MLS, currently. If I had to describe the kind of play you'd see in Liga MX, the best descriptor is that "they try sh*t"; in other words, a league full of Clint Dempseys, only much more technically proficient. Specifically, by joining Tijuana, he's going to be coached by a man who will emphasize offense over defense. Tijuana's Daniel Guzman is known for putting together competitive teams that maintain an offensive minded brand of soccer that can be appealing to fans.
Those highlights are just scratching the surface. You see plays like that in Liga MX regularly. By placing himself in that milieu, Diskerud is only going to improve as a player. It may not make him a classic "number 10" creator, but it will likely enhance his varied skills, and potentially free him to be more audacious during the run of play. Giving someone like Diskerud that kind of freedom can only be a good thing for the U.S. men's national team, as it continues making the transition from life with Donovan and Dempsey to what comes next.
If you're interested in keeping up with Diskerud, Liga MX matches are televised on Univision, Telemundo, FOX Deportes, and ESPN Deportes, and streamed on WatchESPN. Tijuana begins the 2015 Clausura on January 9th.