After seeing countryman Miguel Almiron tear up MLS in his first season with Atlanta United, the ambitious Jesus Medina sets out to do the same with NYCFC.
As NYCFC bowed out of the 2017 MLS playoffs at the hands of the Columbus Crew, it was more than just a farewell to the team's season. It also wound up being Andrea Pirlo’s last match ever, as after a storied 22-year career, Il Maestro exited the stage that made him a legend.
From a nostalgic perspective, it was quite a moment as it brought down the curtain on a player who gave so much artistry to the beautiful game, albeit most notably in his time with Juventus and AC Milan. But in terms of NYCFC’s future, his retirement immediately opened an opportunity for Claudio Reyna, the club’s sporting director, and the rest of the technical team to find a new Designated Player to fill the void. Pirlo’s departure was a chance for Reyna & Co. to go back to the drawing board and determine what they want from their star signings: Experience and an aging reputation or towering potential?
Enter Jesus Medina, the 20-year-old attacking midfielder from Asuncion, Paraguay.
“Jesus is a talented attacking player who can play as a winger or No. 10 and will fit really well into our system and style of play. He is a left-footed technical player with a quick turn of pace, who can score and create goals for his teammates,” said Reyna during the announcement of his signing, which was consequently done when the clock struck midnight on Jan. 1 in the time zone of Samoa and Christmas Island/Kiribati, in order to make Medina’s signing the first of any player around the world in 2018. Make that what you will.
“I’m so happy to be here in New York City. Living here is going to be a unique experience for me,” said Medina, speaking to SI. “And the fact that I am able to live in New York and play football? That’s an incredible privilege.”
From a big-picture standpoint, Medina’s arrival is another example on how NYCFC–and the rest the league–is rethinking the strategy when it comes Designated Players and international talent. The focus, it seems, is not just on well-known names and well-worn players like Pirlo, but also about trusting promising, albeit younger, players, especially from South and Central America. Incoming expansion club LAFC, for example, announced the acquisition of 19-year-old Uruguayan rising star Diego Rossi last month, and last year, Atlanta United scored 70 goals in its inaugural regular season (only Toronto FC scored more) largely thanks to its three DPs: Argentina's Hector Villalba (23 years old), Venezuela's Josef Martinez (24) and Medina’s compatriot, Miguel Almiron (23), MLS’s top newcomer in 2017. Both Almiron and Martinez were also among the top seven in MVP voting.
“Miguel’s performance with Atlanta United is a main reason why I started paying more attention to the league. But also other stars such as David Villa, Pirlo caught my attention,” said Medina, when asked about his knowledge of his new league. “MLS has gotten better with level and talent.”
Medina is also aware that he will be working under Patrick Vieira, and like any player who joins the club, his manager’s reputation does not go unnoticed.
“It’s a real honor to play under a great ex-player and now manager as Patrick Vieira," Medina said. "Personally, this is a great chance for me to learn from him and grow as a player.”
As for his new captain, David Villa? Medina has a conflicted memory of his new teammate for obvious reasons.
“I have such a particular memory watching David Villa growing up, especially his 83rd-minute goal against Paraguay at the 2010 World Cup (laughing), but I don’t hold any grudges, and honestly it’s going be an honor to train with him.”
At just 20, Medina has quite the résumé.
After making his first team debut for Paraguayan club Libertad at the tender age of 15, Medina wound up with 74 appearances, including 14 in South American club competition. Last year, he helped Libertad reach the semifinals of the Copa Sudamericana.
Medina won the Paraguayan league five times, the most recent being the 2017 Apertura, so his winning mentality will be a positive addition to NYCFC, a team that, despite having so much talent, still searches for that winning disposition that conference foe Toronto FC possesses.
For his country, Medina has featured in the U-17 and U-20 squads, and he was named in Paraguay’s provisional squad for Copa America Centenario, only to miss out. Medina eventually made his senior team debut last summer against Mexico when he came on as a substitute in the 85th minute.
On the pitch, Medina is extremely versatile, able to play as a false nine, central attacking midfielder and on either wing. Seeing as Maxi Moralez controls the support striker role for David Villa and Jack Harrison mainly works down the right flank, it will be interesting to see where Vieira places the young Paraguayan.
As journalist Tim Vickery noted, some of his best football occurs on the opposite flank, when he cuts inside from the right wing (take his exquisite goal against Brazil, for example) so Vieira has some tinkering to do if he agrees with this analysis.
Medina is also a free-kick specialist and corner-kick taker, another useful factor for a team that often seemed limited in dead-ball situations.
As far as MLS has come, it would be naïve to think that Medina’s ultimate goal is to stay in this league for the rest of his career. NYCFC, after all, is owned by City Football Group and earlier reports suggested Manchester City purchased him with the intention of an immediate loan move to New York, so it is safe to suggest his career path, if all goes as planned, will eventually lead to Europe. Medina, naturally, agrees.
“Of course, someday I envision my future in Europe and play for big teams such as Manchester City or others in the Premier League,” he says. “But I am 100% focused on my career with NYCFC and my life in MLS.”
Time will tell if Medina can adjust to his new club, especially Yankee Stadium’s narrow pitch, which can often be an obstacle for players who love to have the ball at their feet. One thing is for sure about Medina: His arrival should excite not just NYCFC fans, but those who champion the development of South American talent throughout MLS.