Santiago Rodríguez needs to apply himself.
That’s because we expect great things from the midfielder. Not good, but great: The 23-year-old officially signed with New York City FC earlier this season after spending almost two years on loan with the club – and after a preseason Rumspringa that saw him return to former club Montevideo City Torque and flirt with Esporte Club Bahia – inking a Designated Player contract that will keep him in the Big Apple through the 2027 season. Santiago is now the club’s second-highest-paid player, with a guaranteed salary of $1.3 million. That’s more than twice the $612,500 he pulled in last year.
We have yet to see that investment pay off when he’s on the field.
If you go by the numbers, Santi is good-not-great. According to FBRef, he performs well in key statistical categories, but he’s not elite.
MLS Attacking Midfielders (by percentile)
Basically, he’s a good passer who doesn’t progress the ball enough or create enough chances. FBRef stats are based on games played in the last 365 days, which means these numbers reflect not just the first half of this season, when NYCFC’s disjointed attack isn’t doing much in front of goal, but games played last season starting in June, when the team were finding the back of the net more often.
MLS defenses fear players such as Carles Gil, Luciano Acosta, and Lucas Zelaryán. They contain Rodríguez.
Is it too much to pin NYCFC’s scoring problems this season on Santi? Maybe. The club’s failure to replace Taty Castellanos with a proper No 9 certainly doesn’t help. But Rodríguez is now a DP, and with a DP salary comes DP responsibilities. He’s now the team’s No 10, and it’s up to him to find a way to connect the solid midfield performances of Keaton Parks and James Sands with a level of play that at least kinda threatens the opposition.
The truth is, Santi has never been a consistent player. There is the Rodríguez who shows up in big games and completely pulls apart the other side. He was an artist on the field last October in the 3-0 win over Inter Miami in the MLS Cup Playoffs, and was unstoppable against the New England Revolution in the 2021 Eastern Conference Semifinals.
You see flashes of that Santi during the regular season. Earlier this year, Rodríguez held an attacking masterclass when NYCFC beat Dallas 3-1 at Citi Field.
But then there is the Rodríguez who looks petulant and disconnected from the rest of his team. It’s a Santi who can’t be bothered to track back, who doesn’t hide his frustrations with other NYCFC players, who gets yellow card after yellow card for arguing calls. It’s a Santi whose body language has the slouchy contempt of a teenager who can’t be bothered, not a DP whose job is to elevate the players around him.
To put it simply, if the big-game Rodríguez becomes the everyday Rodríguez then NYCFC will have their Gil, their Acosta, their Zelaryán. If he applies himself – if he becomes more consistent and more professional – he will be among the best in the league.
Santi is an A-student doing just enough to get by, and that isn’t good enough. There are 17 games left this season plus (the soccer gods willing) a playoff game or two. That’s more than enough time to transform what has been a middling year so far into a success.
With that in mind, the grade below should be considered a wake-up call, not a condemnation.