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Making sense of Brian Rodriguez’s departure from LAFC

An explainer on what we know and can reasonably conjecture.

MLS: Houston Dynamo at Los Angeles FC Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

On the scale of LAFC’s Designated Players to date, Brian Rodriguez’s tenure falls in the middle, nowhere near as disastrous as Andre Horta’s but also not remotely close to Carlos Vela and Diego Rossi’s.

With Rodriguez now out the door until May at least, and possibly for good, with his loan move to Spanish second-division side UD Almería on Monday, let’s go over what we know and what it means.

Why did Rodriguez leave?

We all know Rodriguez’s agent has been shopping him around in Europe since the second he signed with LAFC out of Peñarol, and when that wasn’t working, the player decided to press the issue, telling Spanish-language radio outlets in recent days he had no plans to return to Los Angeles to play and was determined to move to Europe.

Obviously, that takes most of the leverage out of LAFC’s hands, and I think a move to the spot he’s gone is less than ideal. Perhaps Almería will pony up a decent transfer fee at the end of this, or maybe they merely want a rental to help push them to promotion up to La Liga this season.

What is the transfer fee?

That’s not been revealed so far that I’ve seen, although one thing that was interesting in the news dropping Monday was an LAFC spokesperson telling reporters that the loan “can become a permanent transfer if certain performance thresholds are met.” From the MLS side, I haven’t heard this before, usually a decision has to be made regardless of how many games or minutes are played or something of the like. But it sounds like there’s some kind of automatic mechanism, although for what we don’t know right now.

Do LAFC open up a Designated Player spot?

Yes, the team spokesperson said a DP spot now opens for LAFC to use.

So I can expect LAFC to sign a DP in a matter of weeks?

Don’t hold your breath on that. There are players who can toggle between being DPs and TAM signings but I imagine LAFC won’t necessarily be in the market for many of those players.

More likely, LAFC will stand pat until they figure out if Almería purchase Rodriguez outright in May, or if another team makes an offer they’ll accept to sell him first. The alternative is if you sign a DP now, then Rodriguez comes back in the summer, and none of the DPs are sold or go on injury reserve, then someone’s going to be deactivated from the roster. And that’s not going to work.

What about the international slot situation?

Same deal as with the DP slot. While Rodriguez is gone, LAFC open his up and can use it on another international. If he comes back, they’ll need it back or will have to trade for one or open up one another way. The good news is you can get a little more creative with international slots, such as sending a young player who isn’t going to be playing on loan to a USL club to free one up. So that’s somewhat less of a concern.

Will we see Rodriguez play for LAFC again?

Great question, and I don’t know. LAFC included a basic quote from John Thorrington in their release on the news:

“Brian is joining Almería as they make a strong push for promotion to Spain’s top division. Since his arrival in 2019, Brian has been a focal point of our attack and success, and we believe that this deal will give him the opportunity to play meaningful games at the highest levels of European football.”

There’s no emotion here, and I think it’s a bit of saving face in what was probably an unwanted situation, but LAFC have not publicly burned any bridges so far on their end. Maybe Rodriguez does great in Europe and never comes back. Maybe he doesn’t do super but still won’t return, or maybe he sees the grass is not always greener, etc. and does return. My hunch is he’s done with LAFC, but again, that destiny may not even be decided yet, so we’ll have to keep his situation in the back of our minds when the summer rolls around.

Has Rodriguez actually been good for LAFC?

I think just about everyone would agree Rodriguez has not been great for LAFC. Vela and Rossi are back-to-back MLS Golden Boot winners, so Rodriguez’s scoring numbers pale in comparison, big time.

But Rodriguez had seven assists in 19 regular-season games last year, very quietly. He was far from a dominant playmaker, but while he wasn’t knocking all the goals in himself, he was helping to set them up, and that shouldn’t go unnoticed.

And again, on the DP spectrum of LAFC’s history, he’s absolutely been better than Horta. But Rodriguez, unlike Horta, managed to get tons of playing time, a credit to him, and also never seemed to fully click with his teammates even if he played just about every game. I was pretty surprised he barely featured in the Concacaf Champions League in December, although that may have been more a function of his recovering from coronavirus than anything more. Still, in the biggest games, whether they could have used him or not, he was irrelevant, which is not the ideal when you’re a Designated Player, right? That in itself speaks volumes.

So we’ll see what happens moving forward for Rodriguez. But on Monday, one chapter, if not the whole book, of his time with LAFC closed.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.