UPPER MONTCLAIR, N.J. – Rodrigo Izecson dos Santos Leite may be joining the New York Red Bulls late in the season, but that doesn’t mean he won’t make an impact for the club this year.
More commonly known as Digão, the 26-year-old Brazilian center back is looking to contribute any way he can after signing a contract with the Red Bulls last week, one that runs until season’s end but includes three team options through 2014. Digão would rather pitch in as a starter, of course, but he doesn’t mind if he is a reserve player, so long as he is helping New York in their quest for an MLS Cup title.
“Obviously coming in middle of the year, I want to help strengthen the team anyway I can,” Digão told reporters through a translator on Wednesday in his first interview since joining the club. “My goals are always high so it’s ultimately to compete for a spot, if I can strengthen the team that way.”
Digão joined the Red Bulls as a free agent after spending time with six European clubs, including AC Milan, during his first seven seasons as a professional. He was without a club earlier this year until New York invited him to the US for a trial at the start of September.
“The Red Bulls have some agents that they work with together in Brazil, so [technical director Ricardo Campos] found out about me and they brought me in and asked me if I wanted to come in on trial,” said Digão. “I came right before the [transfer] window closed, [head coach Hans Backe] liked me, and said I’d probably be able to help the team win the title this year.”
Digão, who has played in unofficial games for clubs and trained with his own physios in an effort to stay fit in recent months, will not be able to suit up for the Red Bulls in their pivotal Eastern Conference clash with Sporting Kansas City on Wednesday. He is still waiting for his visa and it is not expected to arrive until Thursday, meaning he’ll have to wait until at least Saturday when New York visit the New England Revolution to make his debut.
Whether the 6-foot-4 defender even dresses for that game remains to be seen, but Digão’s physical presence and abilities could potentially translate to some starts down the stretch, according to Backe.
“Obviously with my height, people think I’m slow, which is more normally for center backs, but I think I’m quick and a physical presence in the defense,” said Digão. “Unlike most Brazilians, I’m not a super technical guy in terms of trying to do tricks on the ball because of my position, so it’s more of a physical, big presence in the defense and surprisingly speedy. “
Even with physical traits and tools that could translate to success in MLS, much of the talk surrounding Digão surrounds the fact that he’s the younger brother of Brazilian star Kaká. Digão said Kaká was happy for him to be joining MLS and the Red Bulls because, after all, the Real Madrid attacker has been an adamant admirer of New York for some time.
“Obviously, Kaká really likes New York, which is why he bought an apartment here,” said Digão. “All he had to say was really good things and he really liked it here and wants to live here.”
And has Kaká, who was linked with a move to the Red Bulls earlier this season, ever mentioned possibly playing in MLS to Digão?
“He’s always mentioned that, yes he does want to play here, but with his current contract, he wouldn’t be able to come now,” Digão said. “In the future, obviously with his adoration for New York and the United States, yes it is a possibility.”
Franco Panizo covers the New York Red Bulls for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at Franco8813@gmail.com.