Jesus Medina - New York City FC - training
Courtesy of New York City FC

For Jesus Medina, move to MLS owed partly to compatriot Miguel Almiron

CARSON, Calif. – Like many notable young South American talents this winter, Jesus Medina jumped in when given the opportunity to head north to Major League Soccer.

And like at least a few others, what really sealed the deal was the success of a fellow countryman.

The 20-year-old Paraguayan winger signed as New Year's arrived with New York City FC, where he steps into the Designated Player slot vacated with Andrea Pirlo's retirement and perhaps into the key flank role that had been filled by Jack Harrison.

Medina, acquired from Libertad, is among the more intriguing additions to the league heading into the new campaign, a gifted attacker who is just starting to mature, and he figured MLS was the best place to take the next step.

Credit goes to fellow Paraguayan midfielder Miguel Almiron, the gleaming face of MLS's growing legion of young, exquisitely talented South Americans following his electric debut season last year with Atlanta United.

“The level of play that was here really attracted me,” Medina told MLSsoccer.com after NYCFC's 3-0 StubHub Center loss Saturday night to the LA Galaxy. “Then I saw Almiron over here, and it drew my attention.

“I spoke to Miguel, he said the level was really good and was growing a lot, and that’s one of the things that piqued my interest in coming here.”

Medina said he had offers from Italy and Denmark, and there was reported interest in England, but the that path from Latin America to Europe increasingly treks through the US.

“I think you'd be amazed of the amount of players, even from Europe, who want to come to the MLS,” NYCFC coach Patrick Vieira said after a 1-1 draw Friday with LAFC at UCLA. “And I think we're in position where we can select the players that we want, and I think that just shows that the league is going forward.”

Medina joined Libertad's youth setup at 13, made his first-team debut at 15, and has played in 74 league matches since, helping the club capture five Division de Honor titles. He played with Paraguay's U-17 and U-20 sides, was on the preliminary roster for the Copa América Centenario two years ago, and won his first cap in a friendly last July against Mexico.

Vieira called him a “special talent” when NYCFC announced the transfer.

“I think he's a real interesting player,” Vieira said last week. “He's really good in the 1v1, he's got a really good player base, he can score goals, and at the same time he can play in a different position. He can play on the left, he can play on the right, he can even play centrally. It's really interesting to have players who can fill different positions really well.”

Medina started on the left wing, his customary post, in Saturday's loss, but has also been on the right at times this preseason. He's among the primary options to step in for Harrison, who departed last month for Manchester City.

“We have quite different options, and we have a few players who can play in that position ...,” Vieira said. “Jack did really well for us in the last two years he's been with us, but we have different types of players who can do as well as Jack did for us. It's still too early [to know who will play where], but we have different players who can play in that position.”

Medina's preference is to cut inside from the wings through the center of the field. He hopes for a quick adjustment to the league, and believes playing for Vieira, among the finest midfielders of his generation, and alongside striker David Villa could help that aim.

“Both of them were incredible players, and they're both an important part of my personal growth and career,” Medina said. “I'm trying to learn as much as possible from them.”

Europe, he says, isn't in his thoughts. Becoming a more complete player is.

“[I] decided it was best to come to MLS because the league is growing consistently and I could grow and develop in the league as a player," He said. "Seeing that [MLS's level of play] is growing every day, that’s very attractive to us, because coming is something that’s going to help us to grow as players.”