MLS Insider: Tom Bogert

Emiliano Rigoni arrives at Austin FC: “The wait is worth it”

Rigoni TQL Stadium pose

Prior to joining Zenit St. Petersburg in 2017, Emiliano Rigoni didn’t know much personally about Sebastian Driussi, his fellow Argentine at the Russian Premier League club.

The pair had broken out around the same time in the Argentine Primera División as rising young talents. Though Driussi went to Zenit a month before Rigoni did, it didn’t take long for them to become close friends as teammates a long, long way from home.

In July 2021, Driussi arrived at Austin FC while Rigoni went on loan a few times across Europe before signing permanently for Sao Paulo in Brazil's top flight. Driussi has since become one of MLS’s best players, currently the front-runner for 2022's Landon Donovan MLS MVP award, and soon their paths would cross again.

Austin identified Rigoni as a potential signing, so Driussi gave his friend a call. Rigoni listened.

“At the beginning, I didn’t know much about Austin until I got a call from Seba,” Rigoni told media Monday through a translator at a press conference. “I looked up the team more, see how we play. That’s how I got more involved.”

“Off the field and on the field, the chemistry came natural,” Rigoni later added about the MLS All-Star midfielder. “We’re excited to play together again.”

Rigoni was officially acquired by the Verde & Black from Sao Paulo on July 29 for a reported $4 million, joining through the 2024 MLS season with options in 2025 and 2026. He last featured in a competitive senior game on July 8. Due to the move taking a bit to officially get over the line and then visa complications, Rigoni only arrived in Texas' capital city to take part in training this week. It’s been a long wait for the Designated Player, who'll carry that tag alongside Driussi and midfielder Alex Ring.

“The wait is worth it,” head coach Josh Wolff said. “Emiliano comes to us a mature professional – a well-traveled professional, experienced professional. His qualities are quite clear.”

Possible debut

Austin are flying high in their second MLS season, currently sitting second in the Western Conference table, as they’ve been comfortably most of the season. They’re already among the best attacking groups in the league – Austin are tied for first in goals scored (55) and fourth in big chances created (68) – but are now adding a key piece to the group.

Wolff hopes to get Rigoni up to speed as quickly as possible, not ruling out a potential debut on Friday against Supporters’ Shield leaders LAFC (8 pm ET | ESPN, ESPN Deportes).

“The most important part is getting him acclimated and assimilated to how we play,” Wolff said. “High-quality players understand the game at a high level. Once he starts playing, I don’t think there’ll be any doubts what he can do. Physically it’s just getting him ready to a place where he can go, mentally too. I don’t think he’s far off.”

How Rigoni fits

Austin added Rigoni to their third DP spot after getting minimal contributions from Cecilio Dominguez before the Paraguayan winger left this summer, which made room for Rigoni. Essentially, they’re taking a high-leverage roster spot and adding it into a group that's already operating at a high level without the aid of a third DP.

Rigoni, 29, has 55 goals and 36 assists across 307 professional appearances in his well-traveled career since debuting in 2013. He started with Belgrano in Argentina, and moved to Independiente before heading abroad for Zenit. While at Zenit, he went on loan to Elche (Spain) as well as Sampdoria and Atalanta in Italy, all before moving to Sao Paulo in 2021.

“We have eight games left, we’re hopeful he can play in a majority of them,” Wolff said. “A player of his quality, he’ll give us different qualities. He’s coming into a good, strong attacking team already. We have a clear attacking orientation around Sebastian right now, but when you can have more balance around the field, you ask more questions [of the defense].”

Rigoni, like Driussi, can play numerous positions in attack but says his preferred role is right wing. Likely, their strongest XI would include Driussi continuing to play underneath the striker – often Maxi Urruti – with Diego Fagundez on one wing and Rigoni on the other.

Austin have competition across all attacking positions as well, with Ecuador international winger Washington Corozo signing on loan this summer, plus Moussa Djitte and Danny Hoesen behind Urruti up top. The club are aiming to have a deep and unpredictable group to choose from as they likely gear up for a first-ever Audi MLS Cup Playoffs run, missing out as an expansion side in 2021.

“When you have variety in your attack, you can cause more problems,” Wolff said. “We’ve scored plenty of goals but we’re still hungry. The league is unforgiving, so the last eight games will be challenging and the playoffs will provide different challenges. The more high quality we have in the attack [is best]. … He can give us different qualities that we haven’t had so far.”