Nashville SC

Nashville SC officially announces Rodrigo Piñeiro signing

Photo courtesy Uruguay Football Association. #GraphicDesignismyPassion by Tim Sullivan/For Club and Country

After credible local reports last month, it took a little longer than expected for Nashville SC to officially announce the signing of Uruguayan winger Rodriguo Piñeiro. In hindsight, that was largely based on the logistical difficulties of the world we live in as it relates to entering the country and passing his team and league physicals. The details, from Club release:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Feb. 3, 2021) – Nashville Soccer Club announced today the acquisition of Uruguayan winger Rodrigo Piñeiro from Danubio FC in Uruguay’s First Division, pending receipt of his International Transfer Certificate. The 21-year-old’s contract is guaranteed through the 2023 season.

“Rodrigo has the pace and creativity to be a threat in the final third of the field, both on and off the ball.  He adds a unique dynamic to our attack,” said Nashville SC General Manager, Mike Jacobs.

Piñeiro, 21, continues the trend of young attacking players to sign with Nashville SC, joining Designated Players Jhonder Cádiz, Randall Leal and Hany Mukhtar, striker Daniel Ríos and Homegrown wingers Handwalla Bwalla and Alex Muyl, all of whom are 25 years of age or younger. Nashville’s roster now consists of 13 players that are 25 years or younger. 

The attacking midfielder can play wide and centrally, adding to the width and versatility to the current attacking core. Despite an unusual 2020 campaign, the Uruguayan was able to strongly produce while on loan with Danubio FC by recording three goals and three assists in 1,472 minutes of action. He started in 93 percent of Danubio FC’s matches and was involved in 41 percent of the club’s goals last season.

At the international level, Piñeiro has made two appearances for Uruguay’s U-20 squad, while sharing the pitch with fellow Major League Soccer standouts Diego Rossi and Brian Rodríguez.

Nashville SC release

No mention of a DP slot (which should have been obvious), but no mention of TAM is encouraging, and sort of aligns with my opinion of him, about which much more in a moment.

Not much has changed in terms of who he is. The 21-year old (who will turn 22 early in the season – I goofed on that originally, thinking he’d recently turned 22) has played strictly in the domestic league to date, and has not been called to Uruguay youth national teams since a couple U-20 shouts earlier in his career.

In a team-leading 1534 minutes in Uruguay’s Apertura (first-half) season, he led his Danubio FC squad with three goals and two assists, but his team is also awful, in 14th place and the relegation zone. He previously played for Peñarol – one of two powers of the Uruguayan league, along with Nacional – but spent most of his time on the books there out on loan to other teams in the domestic league.

Previous Uruguayans in MLS, with their TransferMarkt values and some of the development in their values in the time since:

  • Francis Ginella ($300k when he signed with LAFC this January for $2.25m, current value $3.00m)
  • Diego Rossi ($750k when he signed with LAFC Jan. 2018 for $2.50m, current value $20m)
  • Brian Rodriguez ($1m when he signed with LAFC mid-season 2019 for $10.45m, current value $12m)
  • Manuel Castro ($800k when loaned to Atlanta in February out of Argentina, current value $800k and he’s headed back to Argentina)
  • José Aja ($300k when sold to Orlando City in 2017 after a loan for $237k, joined Minnesota on a free valued $500k this preseason, currently valued $600k)
  • Thomas Chacon ($350k when he signed with Minnesota United mid-season 2019 for $3.6m, current value $1.50m) **Danubio
  • Nicolás Lodeiro ($5m when he signed with Seattle mid-season 2016 out of Argentina for 5.46m, current value $5.00m). Initially left Uruguay for 4.0m to Ajax when valued $1.25m
  • Nicolás Acevedo ($1.8m when he signed with NYCFC in March for $2.3m, current value $2m)
  • Mauricio Pereyra ($7.0m when he signed with Orlando City Jan. 2019 on a free out of Russia, current value $4.0m).
  • Diego Fagundez (grew up in the United States and signed with the Revs out of their own academy. Current value $1.2m)
  • Nicolás Mezquida ($200k when he signed with Vancouver in preseason 2014 for an unknown fee. Traded to Colorado in 2018-19 offseason. Current value $600k)
  • Marcelo Silva (600k when he signed with RSL on a free mid-season 2017 out of Spain. Current value $400k)

From there, you can see the obvious gaps in TM’s scouting (and thus accurate valuations) of players in Uruguay. But you can also see that Piñeiro’s current $750k valuation (updated only since Martín Charquero’s original report that Piñeiro was Nashville-bound – which can mean it’s either more accurate or more speculative than others) doesn’t put him in the upper echelons, particularly given his comparative age. He’s a good player and a potential breakout – but a lottery ticket more so than a guaranteed star.

A more-robust highlight reel than the one I initially included – though I updated the post to add it, so depending on when you viewed that post, you may have already seen it:

Thanks again to @SLakePreds on Twitter.

He’s pretty big compared to the competition (at least for the position). At 5-9, he’s not exactly towering in an absolute sense, but he looks more like a center forward out there at times in size terms. In fact, he plays a number of roles, from a wingback in 3-5-2 to a second striker in strike-duo formations, to a more traditional attacking winger. Piñeiro even gets some reps as a central midfielder (whether attacking or more reserved). He can also line up on both sides across the width of the field. When he’s on the left, he plays as an in-cutting winger, whereas on the right, he’s a provider of service, including the pull-back cross from dangerous positions inside the box.

Piñeiro has a really good feel for how to use his body. He can play the ball with his head or chest, while using his shape to wall off the opponent from getting to a loose ball. He can use the head to shoot, pass, or bring the ball down, as well. He’s not the speediest from the wing – won’t get run down, but isn’t flying by even centerbacks, either.

One of the things he’s strong with is ability to dribble through traffic: it’s simply really hard to get the ball off him, particularly in one-v-one situations (but also when a second defender arrives). He’s not going to throw a ton of flair into what he does – though he also shows he’s capable of some of that – but he retains possession and finds space to get away from a player marking him. He reads opponents’ momentum and leverage to set them up well, and puts the ball past them while trying to scoot around or through tackle attempts. He has really fluid lateral movement to sidestep opponents, recover defensively, or create openings for himself. On that note, he’s also skilled at keeping the ball on his feet when opponents are trying to run him down from behind, whether that means keeping his balance through an attempt to swipe at it, or feeling the contact and going down in a heap. For what it’s worth, there is a lot of hard tackling in Uruguay, so the physical nature of MLS is not going to take as much adjusting as it did for Hany Mukhtar or even Randall Leal.

There are some obvious weaknesses in his game, starting with the fact that he’s almost exclusively right-footed. There are clips (keep in mind this is a highlight video, too) where he’s hesitant to hit a pass or a shot with the left foot. Even when there’s a semi-obvious opportunity to strike lefty, he can pull it back onto the right side, and wheel backwards to retain possession. That’s better than giving the ball away, of course. It’s still worse than being a two-footed player. Relatedly, his vision is just OK. He can have a tendency to drop his head and focus on the dribble, even when he has guys breaking into space. He shows the tools to improve in that regard, with some nice threaded balls, but they’re a nice bonus, rather than an every-time decision for the time being.

There’s also not a ton of power on the shot, even when he has time-and-room opportunities on his favored right foot. He can strike it solidly and accurately, but it doesn’t jump off the foot the way it does Leal or Daniel Ríos. He earns the assist on this free kick, and that’s good. But it’s not really because of any specific power, bend, or placement on the service. He has finishing instincts to get the job done in traffic, but that’s a slightly different skillset than being a true shooter.

All told… this feels more like a guy who finds a home as an attacking midfielder (or a box-to-box No. 8) in the long run, and develops into a very good one. His skillset is not bad, but as a pure attacker it’s run-of-the-mill on the wing, particularly because he doesn’t have that ability to beat guys with speed or blast shots past the goalkeeper. Adding some two-footedness to his game and remaining a guy that’s impossible to rob the ball from seems like a poor man’s Darlington Nagbe (with maybe a bot more versatility to play in wide areas) than an out-and-out winger. A rich man’s Alex Muyl (to be fair, were talkin’ John Ingram-level rich, comparatively) is the upside on the wing – which to be fair I expect him to start out playing, and if there’s more speed in his legs or power on his foot than his reel shows, I’ll gladly be proven wrong about his upside there.

There are caveats: the quality of competition in Uruguay is very different than what he’ll have to deal with in MLS (and the quality of film playing for one of the league’s minnows sometimes makes his qualities tough to evaluate). It’s possible he arrives and different aspects of his game are accentuated, and that attacking-winger skillset blossoms. It’s possible that skillset is just obscured by playing for a bad team (Danubio is in the relegation zone right now) and not having a reel that’s edited to highlight his ability out wide.

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