Emiliano Rigoni gives Austin FC a "no-brainer" reunion with Sebastian Driussi

Once they take the field together for Austin FC, you could hardly blame star midfielder Sebastian Driussi if he has flashbacks of playing alongside winger Emiliano Rigoni at Zenit St. Petersburg.

The Argentines were both at the Russian top-flight club from 2017-21, and now they’ll be gracing Major League Soccer fields as reunited teammates after Rigoni’s long-suspected move was formally announced Friday – one year, exactly, after Driussi's arrival was.

Both are Designated Players, and Austin hope a dream partnership awaits.

“It was kind of a no-brainer to pair them up,” sporting director Claudio Reyna told MLSsoccer.com. “They know each other, they played together. These things make a difference on the field.

“The quality, he wanted to come to MLS, and then when you see the relationship he has with Sebastian, I think it's great for the club and for the group as well. He'll bring added experience to the team and locker room.”

Rigoni, 29, arrives in the Texan capital city from Brazilian top-flight side Sao Paulo through the 2024 season with options in 2025 and 2026. He’s a twice-capped Argentine international who Reyna said underscores their trophy hopes for the “short, mid and long term.” Austin currently are second in the Western Conference standings, going from a struggling expansion team to an MLS Cup contender that’s immersed in the Supporters’ Shield race with 12 regular-season games to go.

To complete the reported $4 million move and open a DP slot, Austin first offloaded now-Santos Laguna winger Cecilio Dominguez via a mutual contract termination. Reyna said conversations about Rigoni had elevated about six weeks ago, and then they were finalized just before the Secondary Transfer Window closes on Aug. 4.

While year-one DP moves for Dominguez and Tomas Pochettino (on loan at Argentine powerhouse River Plate) haven’t quite panned out, the Driussi one certainly has as the 26-year-old leads the Golden Boot presented by Audi race, is a 2022 MLS All-Star and is arguably the Landon Donovan MLS MVP frontrunner. There’s a clear profile ATX hope can be replicated.

“What I like about Sebastian and now Emiliano is the humility to work for the team and give 100 percent on both sides of the ball, but of course they're difference-makers in attack,” Reyna said. “That's what we're excited about, to pair them up together but also to add to the quality we have in attack.

“ … They're both players in the peaks of their careers that have experiences abroad, carried teams and had responsibilities on the field, off the field. They're bringing that, the desire to come to Austin, realizing we're in year two and a project that's growing.”

Reyna described Rigoni as predominantly playing on the right wing, and he’s their second flank addition this summer after Ecuadorian international Washington Corozo was acquired on a six-month loan. They’ve joined an attack that’s scored the most goals in MLS (45), spearheaded by Driussi and the MLS veteran contingent of Diego Fagundez, Maxi Urruti, Ethan Finlay and Alex Ring (third DP).

Austin are confident, once he gets going, Rigoni will only make them more dangerous. Aside from Brazil and Russia, he’s also played in Spain’s LaLiga and Italy’s Serie A after debuting in 2013 in his native Argentine.

“He's got a very unique style – an offensive player that can dribble well, run with the ball well, combines with players also in the final third,” Reyna said. “He's got the quality to make a difference and it's so important in our league where the differences are very small. When you have a player of his quality, to be able to open the defense with key passes and shots and danger, it brings another element to the attack.”

Asked about a debut date for Rigoni, Reyna said it’s hard to pinpoint an exact match as the visa process unfolds. But once he’s on the ground and integrated into head coach Josh Wolff’s plans, a quick adjustment period is expected.

“The good thing, similar to Sebastian last year, is he's been playing and training all the way up,” Reyna said. “Recently he didn't play simply because this was coming together, but he's in a place where he's got a good base of fitness. We'll see when he gets there. … We hope to have him here as soon as possible.”