Diego Rossi has spent just two days in Los Angeles but he already has a feel for the city.
“Muy grande y mucho trafico,” Rossi said Monday after his first training session with the Los Angeles Football Club.
“It’s a very beautiful city,” the Uruguayan forward continued in Spanish. “It’s really big compared to what I’m used to.”
But Southern California’s sprawl and freeway snarls aren’t the only new things Rossi will encounter in his jump from Uruguay’s first division to LAFC, which begins its first season in MLS in March. And the teenager is embracing both the challenges and the adventures.
“It’s going to be a very good experience,” he said.
Last month LAFC paid a transfer fee of more than $3 million to free Rossi, 19, from Penarol, the iconic Montevideo-based team he led to a national championship last year. The move followed prolonged negotiations and a tug-of-war with other overseas clubs over a player whose international profile is growing.
To close the deal the club turned to Juan Pablo Angel, a former Galaxy and Chivas USA player who is an LAFC consultant in South America. Angel, who played in Europe and South America in addition to MLS, sold the player as much on Southern California as he did on the league.
When he signed, Rossi became the second designated player in club history and the second-youngest DP in league history. But he’s already impressed his new team with a maturity that belies the numbers on his birth certificate.
Following Monday’s practice, for example, Rossi bravely offered to do interviews in English, a language that remains very much a work in progress for him.
“He’s very mature, very humble,” coach Bob Bradley said. “He’s just got a good way about him. When you think about young guys coming here, how they’re going to handle everything, I think Diego has a really good idea of what it’s all about.”
Although LAFC’s roster is just 16 players deep, the team had 23 men on the field for its first practice. One of them, veteran MLS defender Steven Beitashour, is expected to finalize a free-agent contract in the next couple of days. Also in uniform Monday was midfielder Aaron Kovar, on loan from Seattle, where he played four seasons, and five players on trial , among them former Chivas USA forward Bryan de la Fuente.
The practice started more than half an hour later than scheduled because Bradley wanted to address the team before it took the field. Asked what the message was, Bradley said he urged his players to be open and, like Rossi, embrace the unknown.
“Show us your personality,” said the coach, who came away from the first practice pleased. “Come every day with an open mind to understand the game and understand the things we want to try to do.
“We want to do something that’s different and special and you’ve got to come in every day excited and ready to do your part.”
Bradley, who led the Chicago Fire to an MLS championship in his first attempt at coaching an expansion team, said the chance to once again build something from nothing was what drew him to MLS. After Monday’s practice, Rossi said the same thing.
“The club is new,” he said. “I am motivated by that. To write the history.”
He said MLS isn’t as technically smooth as the Uruguayan first division but the North American style is more physical, which could be a problem for a player as slight as the 5-foot-7, 147-pound Rossi.
He’s already found a solution, though, and he’s learning it’s the same one every other Angeleno uses to beat the traffic on their way to work.
“You have to be intelligent,” Rossi said, “and look for space.”