ST. LOUIS — An intriguing potential matchup in Tuesday's US national team friendly against Uruguay (8 pm ET | FS1, Univision, TUDN) could pit US defender Walker Zimmerman against LAFC teammate and Uruguayan winger Brian Rodriguez.
It's the first time the duo have ever faced each other in live competition. And although they have been LAFC teammates for only a month — Rodriguez signed with LAFC Aug. 7 as a much-heralded young Designated Player from Uruguayan club Peñarol — Zimmerman has seen enough to know Rodriguez is a force to be reckoned with.
“Brian is a great talent,” Zimmerman said Monday at Busch Stadium. “He’s a player who is very dynamic 1-v-1.”
That talent plus an exceptional run of play during this summer’s FIFA U-20 World Cup earned the 19-year-old his first call-up to the full Uruguay national team, ranked fifth in the FIFA World Rankings. He played all of La Celeste's 2-1 win over Costa Rica in Uruguay's first friendly of the international break on Friday.
Rodriguez is the latest in a line of young talent that has kept Uruguay — a nation of approximately just 3.5 million people — among the world’s best. Strikers Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani may be the best-known of Uruguay’s recent products. In MLS, the Seattle Sounders' Nicolas Lodeiro earned 60 caps for Uruguay senior side over the past decade.
Rodriguez seems poised to make a name for himself, scoring twice in Uruguay’s four U-20 World Cup matches this summer. Given his recent arrival and LAFC's strong run of form throughout the season, he's appeared in one MLS match as a substitute in a 3-3 draw with the LA Galaxy on Aug. 25.
“The first day at training you could tell he was a little shy, a little nervous, but he’s certainly opened up,” Zimmerman said. “We try to joke in our broken English and broken Spanish. He came in, went to work right away, and didn’t have an ego about him, which is great to see from a young talented player.”
The young Uruguayan’s ability speaks for itself, as Zimmerman discovered defending against Rodriguez in training.
“When he has a lot space, he’s very quick and fast, and you have to be light on your feet because he’s very shifty on his dribble,” Zimmerman said.
Zimmerman saw those things from Rodriguez in clips of Uruguay’s victory over Costa Rica.
“He did the things he does well, which is to try to get in behind the back line and try to whip in some crosses,” Zimmerman said.
While Rodriguez helped Uruguay to their win, decided by a 90th-minute goal from Jonathan Rodriguez, Zimmerman played the first 58 minutes in the US's 3-0 loss to Mexico on Friday at the Meadowlands. A factor in getting a result for the US against Uruguay will be defending Rodriguez effectively.
“His first acceleration with or without the ball is something we’re going to have to be aware of,” Zimmerman said. “It’s a matter of condensing the space for him to use and then working together to shift and slide and cover space.”
No matter what the result, Zimmerman assured Rodriguez of one thing when the two talked about a potential matchup after learning they both had been called up to their respective national teams.
“I let him know he’ll have at least one friendly face in St. Louis,” Zimmerman said.