Rodney Redes: Breaking down Austin FC’s first signing

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This image displays Austin FC's new signing Rodney Redes.
Photo by Raúl Cañete via D10
It was the news we’d all been waiting for. On July 6th, 2020, Austin FC completed the signing of their first-ever first-team player — Rodney Redes. Austin’s inaugural signing joined the club from Paraguayan side Club Guaraní for a reported $2.75 million transfer fee and will be loaned back to the Paraguayan outfit until January 2021.

But who exactly is Rodney Redes?

Born in the town of La Colema, Paraguay, Redes is a bright young 20-year-old who has plied his trade in the heart of Paraguay for Club Guaraní since he made his debut in 2018. The young Paraguayan has since recorded 12 goals in 82 league and cup appearances, including an impressive 3 goals in 8 games in South America’s premier competition — Copa Libertadores. Boasting such an impressive record at such an early age, it comes as no surprise that local Paraguayan media have touted the young starlet as the “gem” of Club Guaraní.

Although primarily operating as a winger, Redes is capable of playing across the attack as an offensive Swiss army knife — as the right winger, the left winger, as a striker, or slightly behind the striker in a second striker role. Such flexibility seems to have played a key factor in Austin FC’s pursuit of the Paraguayan’s signature as new head coach Josh Wolff chose “versatility and impactfulness” as the two words that describe Redes best and he couldn’t have picked two better words to describe the industrious forward.

Playing Style

No matter where you position him on the pitch, with the way he plays, the 20-year-old is guaranteed to make a positive impact for the team in one way or the other. While most of the attention understandably goes straight to the technical, attacking portion of his game, it’s important to first note the attitude and mindset the young Paraguayan approaches the game with — a tenacious, team-first mentality. 

Using all 5’8 of his short, stocky frame, “Picante” gives absolutely everything for the team. Whether it be making thankless runs down the channels, pressing the opposition backline, or tracking all the way back to his own box to win the ball back, Redes is always switched-on and working for the win.

Rodney Redes tracking his man back into his own box and cutting off a through-ball with a fine sliding challenge to clear the danger.

This image above exemplifies everything Redes is about on the defensive side of the ball. No, he is not cutting inside the opposition box to have a shot at goal in this image, in fact, that is the 20-year-old forward’s own penalty box he is defending. The stocky young Paraguayan is actually about to continue tracking his man into the box and cut off a through-ball with a fine sliding challenge to clear the danger. Apart from his versatility, this pit bull-like work rate and determination are perhaps some of his finest attributes. 

On the other end of the pitch, though, is where all the excitement is coming from, and rightfully so. Often playing on the right/left wing of a three-man attack or five-man midfield, or up top in a two-man attack, Redes’ greatest strength is his movement off the ball. Given his short, stocky frame and position on the pitch, most people would, understandably, assume he’s a player eager to get the ball on the wing and showcase his flair and trickery to beat his man down the line; however, he mostly relies on his interplay and movement off the ball to get into goal scoring positions. Don’t get us wrong, he is capable of showcasing his skill and beating his man on occasion (in spectacular fashion at times).

This image displays Rodney Redes' preference to play off of his teammates as opposed to beating his man on a one-on-one.
In this scenario, instead of beating his man down the line, Redes will opt to hold up play waiting for a teammate to play a one-two off of so he can make a run into the box off the ball.

But more often than not, he relies on clever one-twos with his teammates to bolt past his man; when we say his movement off-the-ball it’s not just about the pace “Picante” brings (and he brings a lot of it), it’s how he uses it and the energy he brings with it. Most of the goals and chances he creates come from intelligently-timed late runs into the box or lung-bursting runs on the counter-attack. 

There are a few interesting aspects of his movement on the pitch. 

  1. He is very direct. Whatever position he is starting from and whether he’s on-the-ball or off-the-ball, it is very clear he is always trying to get into the box as quickly as he possibly can. This no-nonsense directness makes himself such a pain for opposition defenders to mark as he is always looking to get into the box and as close to goal as possible. He is not afraid to take a shot from outside the box, but he’s much more likely to try to drift in as close to goal as possible before having a crack. This shot map of Redes’ 2019 season created by Total Football Analysis perfectly illustrates how much the Paraguayan wide forward actually finds his way into the box.

    A shot map of Rodney Redes’ 2019 season created by Total Football Analysis that illustrates how often the Paraguayan wide forward finds his way into the box.
    Image by Total Football Analysis
  2. Although he’s always looking to get into the penalty box from a position out-wide for Club Guaraní, he doesn’t often directly cut inside from the wings ala Hulk or Arjen Robben, he often drifts inside. Even though he’s always trying to get central, he’s smart about when he bursts inside. As his team is in possession, he’ll start to float inside the channels or onto the shoulder of the defender looking for an opportunity to break away into space, again, preferring to use his pace off-the-ball rather than get on the ball.

The most exciting and eye-catching part of his game, however, is the 20-year-old’s talent in front of goal. Registering almost a goal every other game in 2020 (5 goals in 13 games between the Primera División and the Copa Libertadores), the gem of Guaraní had just begun to break out before the COVID-19 break. Most notably scoring huge game-winners in both legs of the final qualifying round of the Copa Libertadores against Chilean side CD Palestino to send the Paraguayans into the group stages. Although predominantly right-footed, Redes never shies away from using his “weaker” foot, making him even more of a nightmare to defend, and has scored quite a few worldies coming inside onto his left.

What to be wary of

While looking into what isn’t so great about your club’s first-ever signing isn’t the most fun thing in the world to do, it’s something that must be done. 

Although Redes is a tenacious, dynamic livewire of a player, it is important to remember he isn’t a tricky, creative playmaker that is going to unlock a sturdy defense with a defense splitting pass or pinpoint cross. The Paraguayan is much more of a powerful runner rather than a flair player or a playmaker — someone who is more often looking to be on the receiving end of a pass. Mostly through pure athleticism, he can beat his man at times, but even when he can create some space for himself, his delivery from out wide can often be found lacking. 

Another potential area of improvement is in the 20-year-old’s decision making in the final third. Given how direct he is about getting in the box, it can be surprising how passive he is sometimes in the choices he makes in the offensive third. At times, when you think he would be favoring himself and taking on a shot or beating his man, he’ll frustratingly opt to lay it off to a teammate instead. 

However, it is important to keep in mind that although he already has a lot of professional experience, Redes is still young and most of these deficiencies will be ironed out with experience. 

Given their shared nationality and experience in the Paraguayan Primera División, an easy, and maybe unfair, comparison to make with Rodney Redes is former Atlanta United star Miguel Almirón. The latter found himself a home in the MLS and absolutely thrived; however, Almirón had a year to develop playing for Club Atlético Lanús in the Argentine Primera División between his time playing in Paraguay and his time in the MLS. 

This image displays two of the Paraguay Primera División's most famous alumni.
The Paraguayan Primera División’s notable alumni: Rodney Redes of Club Guaraní (left) and Miguel Almirón of Cerro Porteño (right).

The question will be whether or not Redes will be able to make the immediate jump from the Paraguayan Primera División to the MLS. Although he only stands at 5’8, Redes is a very strong and athletic player benefitting from a low center of gravity, so he should be well equipped to the direct play of the MLS, especially given the physical style of play in the Paraguayan Primera División. Given his impressive 82 appearances at an early age and strong record playing in the Copa Libertadores, Rodney Redes likely won’t be overwhelmed by the bright new lights of McKalla Place, but making the jump from a promising young talent in the Paraguayan Primera División to being the inaugural signing for Austin FC is quite a leap that might be too big for most…

How will Rodney Redes fit into Austin FC?

It is definitely too early to say where he will play in the system Head Coach Josh Wolff and Sporting Director Claudio Reyna are putting together given that, as of now (July 2020), there is no system. But we can pull together an educated guess or two given all that we do know. 

There are a few interesting takeaways we can pull from Austin FC’s press release announcing the Paraguayan’s signing to help get an idea of how Wolff envisions utilizing “Picante” in his side. 

First of all, while Rodney Redes has primarily played and been classified as a winger, Austin FC specifically labeled his position as a forward multiple times in their official press release. In addition to his positional flexibility, Wolff also put extra emphasis on the Paraguayan’s goal-scoring ability saying, “Rodney is a young player with qualities that can strongly influence any match as a result of his positional flexibility, eye for goal, and clear finishing quality. I am very pleased that we have secured a rising talent who demonstrates goal scoring ability in both the Copa Libertadores as well as his domestic league”. 

While quotes from a press release about Redes’ goal-scoring abilities and position don’t promise that he will be played as a striker, it does indicate Wolff is primarily looking to get all the goals he can out of Redes — likely by utilizing the Paraguayan’s flexibility and playing him closer to goal. 

Given everything we have learned about Redes, it shouldn’t come as much surprise to us if Wolff ends up playing the young Paraguayan up top or anywhere near the striker(s) as he has all the traits and qualities necessary to succeed and play more centrally further up the field.

However, if I were a betting man, I’d bet on Rodney Redes lining up as an inside forward on either side of a 4-3-3 for Austin FC. While not fully liberating him of his defensive responsibilities, this would allow the 20-year-old a little more freedom going forward to either use his energy and pace to run the channels or drift more centrally to play off the striker and position himself closer to goal. 

This image displays a predicted position and system for Redes.

Also, Wolff could easily utilize Redes’ positional flexibility in this system to allow himself the tactical flexibility any strong, fluid side needs. On defense, he could drop Redes back into the midfield to add another body into the defensive block and get the most out of the Paraguayan’s defensive work rate, or he could keep Redes up top with the striker to get the most out of the young forward’s pace and ability to wreak havoc on the counter. 

While not the superstar, blockbuster signing many Austin FC fans dreamed of having as the club’s first-ever signing, Rodney Redes is a pearl of an “under-the-radar” signing that may be a sign of things to come from Austin FC’s front office — perhaps not shooting for the Galacticos of the soccer world, but more so digging for the uncovered gems. Such an approach certainly would fit the “player development culture” that Wolff and Reyna are keen to develop at the club — a culture “where players come in and get better at all ages.” 

The recruitment team are certainly delivering on Club President Andy Loughnane’s word of “pursuing the Latin American market perhaps stronger than others” by signing the “Mbappe of Paraguay”; while Redes takes up one of the club’s 8 allotted international spots, it is worth noting he did not join as a Designated Player, leaving the hunt for Austin FC’s “big fish” still up in the air…

Until then, McKalla Place can celebrate signing perhaps one of Major League Soccer’s most promising young talents in Rodney “Picante” Redes, the gem of (now) Austin FC. 

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