Did Santiago Rodríguez sign a long-term contract with New York City FC that will keep the midfielder in New York City? According to respected journalist César Luis Merlo, the 23-year-old reached a deal with the club last week that will see him return to NYCFC after his loan from Montevideo City Torque lapsed at the end of December.
When the rumor surfaced earlier today, you could hear the collective sigh of relief from the NYCFC faithful. New York City are not only undergoing the most comprehensive rebuild in club history, they are experiencing an unprecedented exodus of talent that has seen more high-quality players leave than any other team “in MLS analytical history,” to quote the Outfield. While sporting director David Lee has made some intriguing signings by adding goalkeeper Matt Freese, 18-year-old defender Mitja Ilenič, and left-back Braian Cufré from RCD Mallorca, those three and the club’s new players don’t come close to offsetting the loss of Maxi Moralez, Alexander Callens, Cacha Acevedo, Sean Johnson, Héber, and Anton Tinnerholm – or failing to replace Taty Castellanos last year.
But if Rodríguez has indeed signed a long-term contract, then NYCFC are back in the fight. Whew.
Which begs the question: Did he really leave?
Rodríguez’s loan certainly expired on December 31, 2022, and he was known to be in talks with both City Torque, his home club, and Esporte Clube Bahia in Brazil. (NYCFC, City Torque, and Bahia are all owned by City Football Group, the parent company of Manchester City.) And Rodríguez was recalled to City Torque in early January – he featured prominently in their opening game of Uruguay’s Primera División last Sunday, converting a penalty then earning a red card in the 98th minute in a 1-1 draw at home. Talk about making a strong first impression.
But NYCFC continued to list him on the club roster, not that it means anything. More tellingly, the organization never acknowledged that he left. There was no “Thank You, Santi” video, no slide show of Rodríguez’s achievements with NYCFC.
The non-breakup seemed mutual. Even when he was with Montevideo, Rodríguez was thinking about New York. In a disarmingly frank interview with Bolivip that the tightly-run communications department at NYCFC never would have green-lighted, Rodríguez admitted that he was negotiating with New York City even while he was training with City Torque. Rodríguez also said that MLS was surprisingly physical (yup), should do more to get fans into the stadia (yup), and that it has excellent infrastructure (yup).
More germane, he said that the former broadcast deals made it difficult to watch him play not only for his family, which is important personally, but for the global network of coaches and scouts, which is essential for an ambitious player like Rodríguez. MLS, Rodríguez said in the Bolavip interview, is “a beautiful league to play in, only thing is when it comes to television, at times it was really hard for my family to watch me play here in Uruguay. They literally needed a lot of options to watch me play. So maybe that is why coaches and scouts are limited when trying to watch games and follow players.”
Did last week’s launch of Apple TV’s MLS Season Pass help NYCFC sign Rodríguez? It ends the Balkanized, amateurish broadcasts that made it difficult for the world to follow developing players who might want to graduate to other leagues. Now every single MLS game will be available in more than 100 countries with no blackouts: Every bar and boteco in the world will be able to watch Rodríguez work his midfield magic when the MLS 2023 season opener between Nashville SC and NYCFC is broadcast in two weeks.
We also get the sense that MLS is being generous with free subscription codes to those in the trade. All those coaches and scouts that keep the international football marketplace moving won’t be asked to pay $99 for the season, $79 if you already subscribe to Apple TV. They’ll just need turn on, and sign in.
Also: Rodríguez wanted more money. Guess that was sorted.
With all this in mind, we like to think of Rodríguez’s six weeks away from New York City as his rumspringa, a time for him to explore the world beyond the coddled confines of the Five Boroughs. He was free to act up and act out — all is forgiven and forgotten now that he (reportedly) is coming back. We never need to speak of it again.
Welcome home, Santi.