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Jesús Medina joins CSKA Moscow

The winger never lived up to the DP hype, but he leaves NYCFC a champion

New York City FC v Portland Timbers: 2021 MLS Cup
Medina will always be family.
Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

Jesús Medina, the former New York City FC Designated Player, has joined CSKA Moscow in the Russian Premier League.

According to an official statement from CSKA Moscow, the 24-year-old signed a 3.5-year contract that will take him through the end of the 2024/25 season. The terms of the contract weren't made public.

CSKA Moscow currently sits in fourth place in the Russian Premier League with 30 points from 18 matches, and could earn a spot in the 2022-23 Europa League.

It’s been an eventful few days for Medina. Last Friday, the winger was called up to the Paraguayan national team to play in two upcoming 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifiers. This is the second time Medina has been called up to the Selección Paraguaya.

A box-to-box winger

Medina has been a consistent figure in City’s team over the last 4 years. The Paraguayan has had his highs and lows on the field which has resulted in both criticism and praise from fans and media alike. His individual achievements have not been particularly breathtaking. However, if winning is a measure of success, then it is hard to categorize his NYCFC legacy as anything but that: A success.

Medina’s accomplishments did not manifest themselves in ways originally envisioned when signed before the 2018 MLS season. The Paraguayan arrived in New York as a Designated Player replacement to the legendary Andrea Pirlo. It signaled a new pattern for the club of the old renowned stars being replaced by younger lesser-known talents with higher potential—it was a move away from the aging Villas and Lampards.

Also, Medina was a product of the emerging pipeline of young South American players entering MLS. His rumored 4-million dollar transfer was made a year after fellow countryman Miguel Almirón joined Atlanta United. While Medina’s impact on MLS was substantially smaller than Almirón’s, both left after winning their respective clubs their first MLS Cup.

Medina racked up a total of 108 MLS regular season and playoff appearances, scoring 23 goals and notching 17 assists. In addition, he scored in both the US Open Cup and the MLS Is Back Tournament.

Arguably, Medina’s most beneficial attribute was his defensive work rate. His pressing alongside Taty Castellanos allowed NYCFC to pick the ball up in better field positions.

The 2021 title run was were where his importance on the defensive side of the ball was displayed to its fullest. With NYCFC’s opponents looking to capitalize on young Tayvon Gray’s inexperience at right-back, Medina was tasked to support him—Medina was often defending his own box, and playing as a box-to-box winger.

Don’t believe the Designated Player hype

Medina’s criticism undoubtedly stemmed from the designated player tag. Expectations were high when to start the 2018 season Medina scored on his debut against Sporting KC. Early success only added to the anticipation. That first season saw Medina feature in 28 games, 21 as a starter, scoring six goals with seven assists.

His first year showed promise, but also indicated that there was a lot of improvement needed. Often he looked out of place and uncomfortable in the attack as his connection with playmaker Maxi Moralez was still developing.

Medina’s progress stalled in 2019 as Castellanos, another young South American, fought his way into the starting lineup. The addition of Brazilian striker Héber saw Medina spend more time on the bench. Manager Dome Torrent favored a front three of Alexandru Mitrita, Héber, and Castellanos. Medina appeared 18 times that season, only starting six games. He contributed only three goals and two assists during an MLS campaign in which he fell out of favor with Torrent.

Medina played 22 games in the strange 2020 season. He contributed to five goals and a pair of assists. He was arguably at his best form in the MLS Is Back Tournament, when he scored in both knockout games against Toronto FC and the Portland Timbers.

The 2021 season was Medina’s best year by far. He became a regular starter: While Héber recovered from his injury and Mitrita was shipped off to another hemisphere, Medina could earn a place in the attack. He played 33 games, starting 27 of them. He had a career-high of nine goals, and he notched four 4 assists.

Medina entered the big apple a young raw talent, valued at approximately 275 thousand dollars. Four years later, Tansfermarkt has him valued at $5.5 million—perhaps a slightly exaggerated price considering the younger and more gifted Santíago Rodriguez is valued at $2.75 million. Whether a hypothetical price would be anywhere near that mark is debatable however unfortunately NYCFC will not be able to receive any funds for his departure. Still, the model for growth in talent that NYCFC is looking to implement is displayed portrayed through Medina.

While Medina’s performance may never fully lived up to the Designated Player hype, he nevertheless added needed talent and depth to the title-winning team. His partnerships with Castellanos and Moralez developed and grew into an attack so lethal it lifted the MLS Cup.

Now that Medina has left New York, we shouldn’t see him as a roster player who took up a Designated Player slot, but as a hardworking winger who finished his time at NYCFC as a champion.