‘He wasn’t performing’: Austin FC sporting director explains Rigoni’s buyout, release

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin FC sporting director Rodolfo Borrell explained Thursday why he decided to waive designated player Emiliano Rigoni and buy out his multi-million dollar contract, and at its core, the decision was simple.

Rigoni wasn’t performing at the level Borrell expects a Major League Soccer designated player to.

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“That’s the end of it,” Borrell said. “He’s a great guy. There’s nothing personal against him. He never missed training and he did his best, but some things happen in life. We didn’t think he was performing at the level we needed him to. He was a good teammate, no problems at all.”

Borrell said he was aware of the trigger in Rigoni’s contract that it would automatically renew for 2025 if he made at least 12 appearances in the 2024 season. While it doesn’t make sense to him why a designated player would have that kind of clause in his contract, that’s beside the point. His point was that the decision was strictly business and it needed to happen before he stepped onto the field for Austin again.

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At the end of the 2023 season, Borrell said he started making calls to potentially move Rigoni. He wouldn’t say where or what teams were involved, but Borrell presented Rigoni’s agent with “two extremely good solutions,” and he was shocked when the agent said no to them.

“We did everything from our end, and for whatever reason, it was not accepted,” Borrell said. “That’s fine, no problem … and he remains with the club, and then the moment comes when he has this clause and we had to exit the player. It wasn’t like we didn’t know. We knew that before the end of the previous season. I found two good solutions, financially, team-wise, everything.”

FRISCO, TEXAS – MAY 11: Emiliano Rigoni #7 of Austin FC plays the ball during the MLS soccer game between Austin FC and <a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:FC Dallas;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">FC Dallas</a> at Toyota Stadium on May 11, 2024 in Frisco, Texas. (Photo by Omar Vega/Getty Images)

Rigoni was guaranteed more than $2 million from Austin FC this year. He was in a contract year with two options years, but with that clause in his contract, the next time he stepped on the pitch for Verde and Black the team would have had to honor another year. Given Rigoni’s lack of production on the field, scoring just once this season in more than 700 minutes this season, the only decision Borrell had was to cut Rigoni loose.

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A designated player tag in MLS comes with high expectations. Each team gets a maximum of three on their roster and their salaries are allowed to exceed the maximum salary cap hit of $683,750. It’s why Austin FC captain Sebastian Driussi can make more than $6 million and Alex Ring rakes in more than $1.6 million. With the big contracts, theoretically, big performances should follow. They never did for Rigoni. He scored five goals with six assists in 2023 but Austin FC failed to make the playoffs.

Through MLS waiver protocol, Rigoni was made available to all the other teams. If another team wanted him, they’d assume the remainder of his contract and he’d move to that team. Nobody picked him up, which led to Borrell buying out his contract. Borrell said he offered to tell Rigoni himself about the plan, but Rigoni’s agent insisted on telling him. Borrell said Rigoni was “upset” when he was “made aware of the situation.”

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When a team releases a player in this nature, they have to do a medical exam to make sure teams aren’t just cutting injured players because they’re hurt. When trying to organize the medical exam, Rigoni at first didn’t want to speak with any of the Austin FC operations employees, Borrell said. Rigoni eventually showed up and that began the final process.

“From the very beginning, we wanted to avoid any misunderstanding,” Borrell said. “We wanted to go face-to-face and tell the situation, step-by-step, and give him all the options.”

The move gives Borrell more flexibility when the summer transfer window opens in July to look for another potential designated player, but he’s not going to force anything if it’s not there. He said he’ll take his time and find the right player for Austin FC. He’s not going to panic, as he said.

“At the end of the day, these kinds of decisions are bigger because the risk is higher and the impact is more financially and on the pitch,” he said.

Austin takes on San Jose at 9:30 p.m. Saturday at Paypal Park in San Jose.

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