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2022 Player Preview: Santiago Rodríguez

Will the attacking midfielder become NYCFC’s playmaker?

New York City FC Vs. New England Revolution At Gillette Stadium
Santi ran circles around the second-best team in MLS.
Photo by Barry Chin/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Santiago Rodríguez

Age: 22

Position: Attacking Midfielder

2021 League Games: 21 games, 11 starts, 985 minutes played

2021 Postseason: 4 games, 4 starts, 369 minutes played

What went right in 2021:

New York City FC signed Santiago Rodríguez from sister club Montevideo City Torque on June 9, but it took another two months for the attacking midfielder to find a place in the starting lineup. Once he did, he harassed the opposition with his blistering pace and technical abilities—not only did he link up with Maxi Moralez and Taty Castellanos in the attack, he created space for his teammates by running at defenders and stretching their lines.

Rodríguez played an instrumental role in the seven-game undefeated streak that saved the club’s season and secured a playoff spot, and he was one of the most important players in NYCFC’s title run: He started four out of four games, played 369 out of a possible 420 minutes, and scored one exquisite goal against New England Revolution.

In fact, Rodríguez was arguably the best player on the field in the Eastern Conference Semifinal game against the Revs. WhoScored.com gave Rodríguez a rating of 8.33, higher than anybody else—including MLS MVP Carles Gil and Club Brugge-bound Tajon Buchanan. His laser-sharp opening goal in the third minute of play was unstoppable, echoing the 11th-minute goal he scored against New England on September 11, 2021. But more than that, his nonstop running simply wore down the New England defense.

What to improve in 2022:

When Rodríguez is good, he’s very very good. The question remains: Will he become great? To do that, he needs to do more than rely more on his ability to carry the ball at a full sprint. It might sound persnickety, but he needs to work on his creativity, and he needs to learn when to slow down.

Despite his technical gifts and relentless work rate, Rodríguez isn’t a pure playmaker like Moralez—while Rodríguez runs hard at defenders, Moralez divides and disorients the defense with his distribution. Put another way, Rodríguez works in vectors, while Moralez operates in three-dimensional space. Speed is a potent weapon, but so is wrong-footing the opposition: If Rodríguez learns to change his tempo he will be able to control the pace of the game.

What to expect in 2022:

This will be a transitional season that will see Rodríguez fill the role that Moralez created at NYCFC. The two will often be on the field at the same time, but expect Rodríguez to log more miles—especially during the tropical summer months that make MLS so special.

If Moralez mentors Rodríguez–and if Rodríguez wants to be mentored–the young player could become the most complete attacking midfielder in MLS. Remember, Rodríguez’s 18-month loan will end in December. If he starts to live up to his potential, expect him to sign a contract with NYCFC—just that other raw, hungry talent who came to City on loan from Montevideo City Torque, and who just won the Golden Boot.

More 2022 Player Previews:

Nicolás Acevedo

Thiago Andrade

Alexander Callens

Maxime Chanot

Tayvon Gray

Héber

Talles Magno

Gedion Zelalem