Think about that: LAFC were set to be without the reigning Landon Donovan MLS MVP, curator of the greatest individual season in league history, yet no one doubted their ability to score goals. How many teams could even contemplate that scenario? Well, how many teams have somebody like Diego Rossi as a secondary option?
The 22-year-old Uruguayan attacker has seven goals and two assists through four games at the tournament, an outstanding run of form even for his lofty standards. Rossi has paced a pyrotechnic attack, exploding at its accustomed whirlwind pace.
“Diego’s a stud," defender Dejan Jakovic told media on a video conference call Wednesday. "He’s been an absolute baller for us.”
Rossi being a really good player is nothing new, but this version has reached another level. He scored 12 goals in 2018 then 16 last season, with 16 assists sprinkled across the two years. He got plenty of recognition for his exploits, even with Vela breaking records on the other side of the field. In Orlando, though, there's no doubt: Rossi is the star.
“He’s worked hard on his finishing, you’ve seen the improvement there," head coach Bob Bradley said. "Just a couple years he’s gone from a young player … to someone who is relentless.”
Jakovic, who was also an inaugural member of LAFC alongside Rossi, agreed his finishing is where he's made the most strides forward.
“In this tournament, he’s showing everyone what he’s capable of doing," Jakovic said. "His biggest improvement since the start is his finishing. His accuracy has improved, his work rate is always up there, but creating those opportunities and finishing them is what separates him.”
Rossi has always been a wide-forward more than a traditional winger, a guy who is goal-dangerous cutting in from wide — a similar style to Mo Salah at Liverpool or Raheem Sterling at Manchester City. That kind of ability led Bradley to believe he could be of use as a center forward if needed.
“We’ve worked with him from the start that not only could he play from the outside, but he can also play as a No. 9," Bradley said. "This year, at different times when he’s played as a No. 9, he’s handled it really well. And that’s a credit to his growth and maturity.”
That may be handy when Vela is available to play again.