Founded in 2014 and making their Major League Soccer debut in 2018, Los Angeles FC has quickly established themselves as one of the major title contenders. Starting a club’s journey from the beginning requires investing in both experienced players and promising talent. For their first season, they hired Bob Bradley as head coach and acquired former Arsenal striker Carlos Vela to be the face of the franchise.
Their next big move was bringing promising 19-year-old Uruguayan star Brian Rodríguez to make a championship run. After some impressive appearances in the first months of 2019 for hometown Peñarol and the U20 National Team, he arrived as one of LAFC’s three permitted designated players last August. The championship goal came up just short last year after losing in the MLS Conference Finals, but for Brian Rodríguez, 2019 was a front-side step in his young career. As a reward, he got the chance to represent the Uruguay National Team six times in the last months of the year.
In this scout report, I will examine Brian Rodríguez’s attributes and discuss his potential. Also through this tactical analysis, I will break down his roles playing under Bob Bradley’s and Óscar Tabárez’s tactics.
As a winger, his versatility allows him to play in both left and right attacking positions. At his club, he is mostly used as a left-winger in Bob Bradley’s 4-3-3 preferred formation, although sometimes he can be seen on the right side. In the image below, we see Rodríguez waiting on the left, while teammates Vela and Rossi complete the attacking line.
Defensively, he can be seen helping out in a defensive transition as we can see below, but he doesn’t have big responsibilities for the recovery of the ball.
Uruguay’s game style is quite different. First of all, having both Luis Suárez and Edinson Cavani forces Tabárez to play with two striker formations, with the classical 4-4-2 as the most used one. In this case, Brian Rodríguez has fitted as a wide midfielder, making constant in-game side rotations.
Regarding the National Team, we can see above that in attacking phases, the 19-year-old is responsible for attacking wide spaces, letting the centre-forwards occupy the central channels.
He has been used mostly on the right flank for Uruguay, but as I mentioned before, he is constantly rotating his position. In the picture above, he scored after dribbling a defender and cutting to the middle from the left. He added two more (against Perú and USA) to complete three goals in six outings for Uruguay. Two came from the left side, and one from the right side, as we can see below.
In the defensive phase, he has to move back and run a lot more meters than he does in LAFC. As Uruguay is not used to dominating rivals through possession of the ball, this is important to set their typical 4-4-2 defending block.
What stands out of Rodríguez in this aspect of the game is that he can adapt to different styles, tactics, and formations, while also being able to do it in both wings of the pitch. From a tactical standpoint, it is common to see wingers having difficulties when they have to move back on the pitch and defend.
His main ability: dribbling
The most notorious thing that can make us think about Rodríguez as something special is his dribbling ability. This aspect of his game makes him look more like a Brazilian or Argentinian winger – countries that produce many of these players.
To put this technical feature into context, he was leading MLS in dribbling attempts this season with 13.93 dribbles per 90 minutes before the COVID-19 pandemic, while his teammate Carlos Vela is second with 8.96. It was just two games, but if we compare those numbers with last season, the leading player in that area was Brazilian Ilsinho with 13.36, while Rodríguez had 12.32 in 7 games that season – not far from Ilsinho. He is also in the top 10 in progressive runs, behind Ezequiel Barco and Alexandru Mitriță.
Comparing him to Europe’s big names in this stat, if we consider the “Top Five” Leagues’ 19/20 season numbers, he would appear third behind Moroccan Southampton’s winger Sofiane Boufal (14.96 dribbles per 90 minutes) and Neymar (13.94).
His skills allow him to get out of certain situations with unexpected movements. In the picture above, he was being marked closely by the defender, and while he had more space to cut into the middle with his right and preferred foot, he finally left the defender behind going to his left.
This is one of his brightest qualities and he seems to know that. He constantly tries to face the defender in front of him when he has control of the ball. So, positionally speaking, Brian Rodríguez is an attacking winger or wide attacking midfielder who can play both sides of the pitch. Adding his dribbling ability, he can overcome a defender to his right or his left, and he also can shoot with both feet.
Because he has lots of options, he is a very difficult player to defend against. The image below shows Rodríguez dribbling to his left in a play where he would then score with a powerful shot.
In terms of accuracy, to be near the top of the crop he needs to get better as he has been inconsistent. For example, Neymar averages 53% of successful dribbles. Rodríguez just managed to average 39% last season and was averaging 33% on the current season with LAFC.
When he plays for Uruguay, his percentages are better but the volume is lower, as he averaged 44% accuracy on 8.16 dribbles per 90 minutes over those six games. Also, in a small sample during Uruguay’s U20 World Cup journey, he got a 62% success rate on 9.29 dribbles per 90 minutes over four games, which make us think that he can trend up those numbers.
When LAFC possess the ball during the build-up, he usually stays wide waiting for the ball. Then, he reads the play and if his marker is too close (see image below) or the defensive line too high, he can make runs to the open space behind. Although it is not his most prominent attribute, he is fast-paced enough to gain an advantage of it.
During offensive transitions, his teammates frequently look at him as an option to counter-attack fast. The image below shows him running to space after an LAFC recovery. In these situations, you are not going to see him often staying back and slowing down possession. He will run forward with or without the ball.
Improving his weaknesses will set up his ceiling
In this analysis, I mainly went through Rodríguez’s strengths. If you have an attacking winger in your team who is a high-skilled dribbler, fast-paced, can play both sides of the pitch, and can shoot with both feet, you are in your own right to demand some hard stats from him: goals and assists.
It is in that department where he has lots of room to improve. The 19-year-old is shooting 2.74 times per game, failing to score in his still short MLS tenure. He is far behind his teammate and 2019 MLS top goalscorer Carlos Vela’s 4.73 shots per game during last season.
In terms of xG and xA, Brian Rodríguez’s rates are low, averaging 0.22 xG and 0.2 xA. This could be associated with his decision-making in the final third, as he sometimes makes the wrong choice between shooting, passing, or dribbling to resolve. Also to get better looks to the goal, he needs to improve his positioning near the goal. It is normal to see him making runs into the goal area too early or too late, so teammates can’t find him in the right spot, as the picture above shows.
Despite having different styles of playing, comparing him to Real Madrid’s Vinicius Junior (0.3 xG and 0.18 xA) seems fair because of their similar age. To their good-looking creative attacking style, they have to add improvements in finishing attacks. To take his game to another level and draw the attention of European teams, Brian Rodríguez will have to produce goals and assists regularly.
During this scout report, we detailed every of Brian Rodríguez’s special talents. The Uruguayan young player has all the tools needed to take the right steps into a brilliant career.
His stable and important role at LAFC under Bob Bradley’s tactics and becoming a regular starter in Uruguay’s National Team puts him automatically under the radar. If the already suspended Copa América was about to be played this year, we could have seen him in Europe during this summer’s transfer market. For now, patience and time to improve some aspects of his game will help Brian Rodríguez in making that happen.