Who would start at left midfield for D.C. United on Sunday against Atlanta United was somewhat of a mystery until the lineups were announced. With a vacancy due to the departure of Yamil Asad, it was assumed that offseason loan signing Lucas Rodriguez would be the replacement. However, Rodriguez missed a couple of weeks of preseason camp due to injury, and only played 30 minutes in the final four friendlies.
That left the door open for either Ulises Segura or Zoltan Stieber to get the start. However, head coach Ben Olsen opted for the 21-year-old Argentine, and Titi put in a good 67 minute shift in his debut. The performance was highlighted by Rodriguez not missing a pass all night, and adding in four tackles as well.
Given how little time Rodriguez had on the field with his new team in preseason, Olsen said on Tuesday that he was surprised at how well the former Estudiantes winger performed against the defending MLS Cup champions.
“I was little bit surprised at how quickly he fit in,” Olsen said after Tuesday’s practice. “Especially with the lack of minutes and his fitness level. I was pleasantly surprised.”
Earlier in the preseason, Olsen preached about how even though Rodriguez was still young, that the midfielder possessed plenty of experience. In all competitions, including the Argentine Superliga, Copa Libertadores, and the Copa Sudamericana, Rodriguez had already played over 100 professional games. And it showed on Sunday, as he seamlessly hit the ground running in his debut for the Black-and-Red.
On Tuesday, Olsen said Rodriguez had a “complete performance” against Atlanta United. That was a stark contrast to the week prior, when Rodriguez struggled to get involved in the preseason finale against the Montreal Impact. That wasn’t the case on Sunday, when Rodriguez took three shots, and earned an assist on Luciano Acosta’s goal.
With the midfielders excelling after Wayne Rooney’s arrival last year, it seems likely that should Rodriguez continue to learn his new team and league well, that he could put up similar numbers to Arriola on the opposite side of the field. Olsen said that Rodriguez has that ability, which will be useful when teams focus their efforts on Rooney and Acosta.
“The one thing I said about Lucas is he has the chance to get on the board a few times,” said Olsen. “We have to push that, because he’s a lovely player, and he’s going to help us in possession and out of possession.”