Soccer

Diego Rossi rewards LAFC’s patience with a record-setting start to his MLS career

Early last fall the Los Angeles Football Club thought it had an agreement to bring teenage forward Diego Rossi from Uruguay to MLS as the second-youngest designated player in league history.

Then the deal hit a snag.

“We targeted him very aggressively,” said John Thorrington, the club’s executive vice-president for soccer operations. “We were hoping things would get done. And everything was moving toward signing him. But as a club we always have to have other options in the event things fall through.”

As the talks dragged on, Thorrington had a choice: He could cut bait on Rossi and move on to those other options to build out his thin roster. Or he could wait until Peñarol, Rossi’s club team, signed the reported $3.1-million transfer deal.

He chose the latter option and that already looks like one of the best decisions of Thorrington’s short time with LAFC.

“Diego and us and Peñarol saw this as a deal that worked out for all parties involved,” he said. “What Diego is evidence of is that we are very disciplined in our scouting and recruitment process, of knowing what we want and targeting it very aggressively.”

Rossi scored the first goal in the expansion team’s history in LAFC’s 1-0 win over Seattle in its season opener, then did better in the second game, scoring twice and assisting on the other three goals in a 5-1 victory over Real Salt Lake on March 10. It was just the sixth time in league history — and first since 2008 — that a player was involved in five goals in a single game and it earned Rossi MLS Player of the Week honors.

It also made LAFC the only expansion franchise in league to win its first two games on the road. The unorthodox MLS schedule then gave the team the next three weeks off, meaning LAFC won’t get a chance to extend its record until March 31 when it meets the Galaxy, its cross-town rival, at the StubHub Center.

Los Angeles forward Diego Rossi walks off the pitch after an MLS soccer match against the Seattle So
LAFC's Diego Rossi earned MLS Player of the Week honors after being involved in five goals in a single game.
(Ted S. Warren / Associated Press )

Meanwhile Rossi, two games into his MLS career, leads the league in assists and is second in goals, a better start to the season than any of the last 15 league MVPs. Even Landon Donovan, the man the MVP award is named after, needed two months and 11 games to get his first three league goals. And he went on to set career records in both categories.

Rossi won’t challenge those records, largely because he’ll be playing for a major club in Europe before he gets close to either one. But among his teammates there’s no secret to what’s been behind his fast start.

“It’s his intelligence to make the right runs,” veteran midfielder Benny Feilhaber said. “He reads those plays very well. And he’s been very good at running off the defenders’ shoulders.

“Outside, inside runs. And obviously the guys are finding him with some good balls as well.”

Coach Bob Bradley goes a little deeper, crediting Rossi’s pedigree at Peñarol — the Uruguayan powerhouse where he won two national titles — and his personal make-up for his success.

“His background and experience at Peñarol has given him a solid foundation,” Bradley said. “Peñarol is a club where you have to work every day. You learn from good examples.

“And Diego as a person is humble. So he comes in here with such good starting points.”

But though his MLS adventure has gotten off to an unparalleled beginning, Rossi seems neither surprised nor cocky over his performance.

“Everything’s new and to start this way was special,” he said in Spanish. “But we have to go game by game. Our sport is a team sport, not an individual one.”

Don’t interpret that lack of pretension as a lack of confidence or maturity though. Although he turned 20 earlier this month, Rossi already has a house in Pasadena where he lives with his wife Vivian, whom he married in December.

The wedding took place at about the same time Thorrington was finally wrapping up the deal that brought Rossi from Montevideo to LAFC. Now that patience is being rewarded.

“Diego has been great. He’s young, energetic. When he gets near the goal, he’s pretty clinical,” teammate Steven Beitashour said.

“There’s a reason we brought him here.”

kevin.baxter@latimes.com

Follow Kevin Baxter on Twitter @kbaxter11