Rigoni’s Release Marks End of an Ugly Era for Austin FC

Update: Has Borrell already found his new DP?

Emiliano Rigoni's disappointing Austin FC career concludes with six goals and six assists in 58 appearances across three seasons (credit: Austin FC)

Updated May 22, 11am: Multiple outlets Wednesday reported that Austin FC had already moved to fill the DP spot vacated by Rigoni, nearing the signature of 25-year-old Ghanaian winger Osman Bukari from Serbian club Red Star Belgrade, for a club-record transfer fee north of $7 million.

Bukari scored 21 goals and 13 assists in 67 appearances for Red Star across two title-winning seasons. He’s also scored three goals in 16 caps for the Ghanaian national team, including at the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

ORIGINAL STORY:

From his appointment in late 2019 to his disgraced resignation in early 2023, Claudio Reyna took some big swings while serving as Austin FC’s first-ever sporting director.

While a handful of those swings – Sebastián Driussi, Brad Stuver, and Dani Pereira – connected for moonshots, many more resulted in high-priced whiffs that nearly doomed the club to a multi-year sentence of MLS mediocrity.

On Tuesday, Austin FC finally rid itself of Reyna’s biggest and most expensive dud when the club announced the contract buyout and subsequent release of designated player Emiliano Rigoni.

According to a report from The Athletic, Rigoni’s contract, valued at just over $2 million annually, contained an irregular (and for ATXFC, disastrous) clause that would have automatically triggered an extension for the 2025 season if Rigoni made at least 12 MLS appearances in 2024. The 31-year-old Argentine winger scored one goal and failed to log an assist in 11 appearances this season.

Austin FC originally signed Rigoni in July of 2022, in the middle of the most successful season the club has enjoyed to date. Austin paid Rigoni’s former club, São Paulo FC, a transfer fee of $4 million to pair Rigoni alongside Driussi, his countryman and former Zenit St. Petersburg teammate, at the apex of the Verde attack. It never clicked, as Rigoni managed just six goals and six assists across 58 total appearances in Austin. This season, much of the club’s offensive success came without Rigoni on the pitch.

Rigoni can now be added to a sobering list of high-priced former Austin FC flops that also includes Rodney Redes, Cecilio Domínguez, and Tomás Pochettino. Those four players, all signed under Reyna’s stewardship, make up the club’s second, third, fourth, and fifth most expensive transfers, costing the club a collective total north of $11 million in transfer fees plus millions more in annual wages.

That’s a lot of Anthony Precourt’s money down the drain. Such is the price of making bad hires, as Reyna certainly proved to be for Austin FC. But in parting ways with Rigoni, Austin FC can now finally close the book on the Claudio Reyna Era once and for all.

Conversely, it can now advance past the prologue of the Rodolfo Borrell Era. In his 11 months as ATXFC sporting director since leaving Manchester City for Texas, Borrell has mostly had to do his work around the margins of the roster while waiting for some of the club’s finances and high-leverage roster spots to free up.

Now, Borrell can really get his hands dirty. Rigoni’s departure crucially frees up one of Austin FC’s three designated player (DP) slots, which can be used on the kind of high-earning, high-impact players that Borrell spent three decades working with in Europe. And according to him, Austin is where many of those players want to be.

“This is a very attractive place and there are plenty of players from all around the world that are interested in coming here,” Borrell said last fall. “Names that you could even not believe.”

With the European club season winding down and a summer transfer window just a few weeks away, Borrell now has an opportunity to make good on that big talk. After consecutive home victories last week, Austin FC has surged up to No. 3 in the Western Conference standings and could benefit greatly by adding another impact player in attack. However, the club may opt to exercise patience and save its big chip for the MLS offseason.

If nothing else, Austin FC can finally move forward without the ball and chain that was Claudio Reyna’s erratic eye for talent (and apparent fondness for unorthodox contract language) slowing its roll.


For more Austin FC news and analysis, visit The Austin Chronicle's Austin FC hub. Follow The Verde Report columnist Eric Goodman on X: @goodman.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS POST

Austin FC, Emiliano Rigoni, Claudio Reyna, Rodolfo Borrell

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