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Why Giuseppe Rossi’s RSL deal is exciting and weird

From Champions League to Leagues Cup, Giuseppe Rossi is a fascinating addition to Real Salt Lake.

Villarreal’s Italain Giuseppe Rossi (L) Photo credit should read DIEGO TUSON/AFP via Getty Images

If you’d asked a decade ago where Giuseppe Rossi would be playing in 2020, I don’t think anybody would have said Major League Soccer. Certainly fewer would have said Real Salt Lake.

But time has a funny way of playing games with you.

Let’s humor time for a moment, though. The 2010-11 season saw Rossi with the joint fifth-highest goals total in La Liga, ahead of players like Karim Benzema (though behind some Ronaldo and Messi duo, whose fates were knotted together for so long.)

He was a name in American soccer not for having played here, but for having not played here, despite having the opportunity to represent such a giant on the world stage and instead choosing a smaller, somewhat boot-shaped country. Also, he scored against the U.S. in (checks notes) the opening stage of the 2009 Confederations Cup. Folks were real mad about that.

But beyond that, he was a name in American soccer because he represented something we’ve all grasped at: American soccer players could be, like, really good.

We were, after all, still reeling from the revelation that Freddy Adu wasn’t all he was said to be in the media (which, hey, we’re not here to relitigate that fiasco, but was there anything beyond novelty driving the fervor around a teenage soccer phenom in the U.S.?), and Rossi was something exciting. He was good, and he played in our backyards. I mean, sort of.

Realistically, he went to Italy when he was 12 and just played some youth soccer here, but that’s not the point. It turns out that Parma probably deserves more credit for his development than, say, Clifton High School. (I have just learned about Clifton High School. Did you know that Jon Seda, who played a character for two seasons in Homicide: Life on the Street went there? I didn’t. I also haven’t seen the show. Oh, and a bunch of soccer players attended — like Matt Miazga and several others, whose names I didn’t recognize. Anyway, let’s move on.)

So here we are, ten years on, reflecting on Giuseppe Rossi’s career.

That potential from a decade ago was sadly drained and replaced with injury after injury. His last professional, in-season appearance came on May 20, 2018, and he played about 30 minutes for Genoa that day. His last start came on April 9, 2017 for Celta Vigo, and he left that game with a cruciate ligament rupture.

And so you’re probably sitting here wondering what the hype is about, given he hasn’t started a match in nearly three years.

We have to go back just six days to get that, when he scored a hat trick by the 56th minute playing against UD Las Palmas.

So it was weird when he didn’t end up with another club following 2018. Sure, he was coming off a slate of injuries and had at least four knee operations to that point. And sure, he was also coming off the back of a reprimand that nearly landed him a year without a club for failing a drug test. In the end, he actually spent a year without a club after being linked to Fiorentina, Villareal, Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur, LAFC and New York City FC, among others.

It’s hard to know why the deals didn’t work out without being in the room. But if I’m to speculate without any shred of evidence, I might start by looking at reports that he signed with a new agency. Those emerged inside the last week. With this Real Salt Lake move done, it does make one wonder if there was a hang-up with his previous representation.

What can we expect from Giuseppe Rossi? Interestingly, I’d thought he’d gone a long time without a club. A year and a half is still a long time, but is it damning? I have no clue, really. It’s unusual, certainly. But stranger things have happened.

Rossi, importantly, has been training during that time. He trained with Manchester United, and he trained with Villareal. Both stints appear to have been for longish periods of time. That’s certainly a positive.

One imagines Real Salt Lake will work to protect Rossi somewhat. His injury history is there in big, bold letters, and the club will be keen to avoid dropping gobs of money on yet another player who isn’t playing. (Among others, see Movsisyan, Yura; Ortuno, Alfredo) If he avoids injury, he might be a steal. He might be expensive. We don’t really know, and we won’t until salary numbers are released. Even then, a highly incentivized contract wouldn’t really show like guaranteed money does. It’s a tricky thing to evaluate.

If the few minutes we saw him in preseason count for anything, it should be an indication that he’s a creative forward, and that’s something Real Salt Lake has needed for some time. Sam Johnson and Damir Kreilach both add value at forward (yes, even if it’s not Kreilach’s standardized position) but they’re less likely to connect with another player. That’s not always a bad thing, but Rossi provides a new dimension. Maybe.

When it’s all said and done, yes, it’s a little weird that this move actually happened. This felt like one of those moves that you’d execute in, say, Football Manager, fantasize about, and move on from. But here we are, in reality, with this move done.

At 33 years old, Giuseppe Rossi has joined Real Salt Lake.

What a world we live in.