Diego Rossi is 19-years old, a teenager like any other, living with his parents as part of a middle-class family in Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay. He has a younger brother and friends with whom he shares his free time, just as any boy his age would.
And at the same time he's a veteran in what he does. Literally, he has been playing soccer all his life. He has now been part of Peñarol's senior team for more than two years, one of the most decorated clubs in South American football, and has just helped the team win another national championship. His 10 goals, nine assists and his great offensive plays were decisive to achieve it.
Now, Diego Rossi is the second Designated Player in the history of LAFC, the only team that will enter MLS in the 2018 season, an announcement that likely took many by surprise. The young South American is nothing but a perfect stranger beyond the borders of his country.
"Rossi came to Peñarol's youth teams when he was very young," Wilson Méndez, a journalist who covers everything that happens in the club for various Uruguayan media, told MLSsoccer.com.
In Rossi’s case, Peñarol followed the performances of the striker from his time in the children's leagues in Costa de Oro, on the outskirts of Montevideo.
"He's 100 percent Peñarol, they taught him everything”, said Martin Charquero, a journalist with the TV network Teledoce and Sport 890 Radio. "He was always the top scorer of all the youth teams, in all categories."
"In the youth system Rossi always played as a striker with presence in the rival penalty box," Méndez added.
But when they called Rossi for the first-team, coach Leonardo Ramos thought that the 5-foot-7 teenager could give him something else, so he changed his position.
"Diego is not too tall but he is very fast and has a great technique," Charquero said of the attacker. "Coach Ramos wanted to have him on the team, but he could not give him a place in the starting XI as a striker. He would have had to rest powerful and experienced goal-scorers. ... That's why, instead of treating him like a striker, he began to consider him as a wing, a player 'outside the box.'
Said Mendez: "Now he plays on the wings, especially on the right. He is a supportive footballer, focused on the collective game. Today he is more an offensive midfielder than a pure striker. "
The image of Diego Rossi as a player is starting to come into focus. And it looks similar to that of the compatriots he will be joining in MLS.
"All the Uruguayan players who have done well in the MLS are light, small, with similar characteristics," recalled Charquero. “[Seattle’s] Nicolas Lodeiro is an example. But there’s also Cristian Techera, Nicolás Mezquida and Vicente Sánchez.
Like that quartet, Rossi possesses exceptional skills with the ball at his feet. But it is not only his on-field talents that set him apart, with Mendez noting that, "Diego has a special maturity compared to the average of other players of his age.”
LAFC’s newest signing is essentially someone who plays for the group, who privileges the collective game over individual actions. In a completely new team – which still lacks so many pieces – it might be difficult to imagine what role Rossi will play under coach Bob Bradley. But if there is anything the South American can offer, it is a good amount of options for the attack.
Rossi is able to perform successfully in three different positions in the offense, but perhaps his most attractive feature is his ability to play dynamic and diagonal balls, a possibility that seems like an ideal match for Carlos Vela’s game, who was signed this summer.
The 19-year-old Rossi has been regularly called up by the Uruguayan youth national teams. This year, Rossi was part of the team that won the Under-20 South American Championship, but was not considered for the U-20 World Cup, and many fans and observers in his country felt his goals were missed.
Rossi has what some MLS teams look for when they explore the South American market: personality, daring and cunning in the game, and killer shots. To that, Diego adds a discipline not entirely common in Latin soccer players.
For Diego Rossi comes the first big change of his life. He leaves his quiet country to start from scratch in another corner of the world.
"We were not surprised that an MLS team came looking for him. In Uruguay we see a lot of MLS soccer now”, said Méndez, who is convinced of his countryman’s chances of success. "He goes to a hard, physical league. But do not forget that in this country football is also physical and the defenders are very strong. Diego will be used to it. "