Austin FC's new signing Sebastián Driussi: Positive to be in a city with 'Latin culture'
Sebastián Driussi looked at home on the seventh floor of the Fairmont Austin Hotel when he was announced as the third designated player, and prospective savior of the 2021 season, for Austin FC on July 29.
Flanked by sporting director Claudio Reyna, the 25-year-old Argentine appeared cool, calm and collected. The same traits Austin FC head coach Josh Wolff expects Driussi to display as an attacking midfielder Saturday night when he’s likely to debut, at least as a substitute, against FC Dallas.
Home is important to Driussi. He’s likely to feel more at home in a multicultural city such as Austin compared to the past four years spent at FC Zenit Saint Petersburg. Driussi doesn’t speak much English, he told me through a translator on the balcony of a bar inside the Fairmont.
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That’s not unique at Austin FC. The club’s other two designated players — Tomás Pochettino and Cecilio Domínguez — also speak primarily in Spanish.
“It’s very positive for me to be in a city with more Latin culture and Spanish speakers,” Driussi said via translator. “It is crucial to have bilingual players on the field and off of the field because it helps us feel more confident to communicate.”
Driussi also feels like he shares more than a verbal language with the likes of Pochettino and Domínguez, and fellow South Americans on the club such as Jhohan Romaña and Rodney Redes. The group shares a love language. He considers soccer a way of life.
“Having South American players (on the team) is also crucial because of the way we live soccer,” he said. “I think we live soccer in a different way, so it is great for me to know that I can develop those relationships.”
Driussi spent four seasons in Russia playing for Zenit St. Petersburg, debuting for Zenit as a 21-year-old in 2017 after starting his professional career for River Plate in Buenos Aires back in 2015. He helped the club lift three Russian Premier League trophies, scoring 21 goals in 95 appearances in league play.
He described his life in Russia as happy, even if it was difficult to adjust to a new country and style of play when he arrived from Argentina. He scored 16 total goals through 54 appearances in his first two seasons, but that number fell to five over his last 41 appearances in his final two years.
Driussi saw his role inside the club changing, so his camp began looking at options. Signing a player in his prime with the type of pedigree of Driussi was a coup for Austin FC. He’s not an old veteran hoping to collect a few checks before moving into retirement. Driussi is entering, in theory, the best years of his soccer life. Negotiating a move can be difficult, especially from eight time zones away.
“It was about two months ago when negotiations started and it was a very difficult process because Russians can be rather difficult, but I’m very happy to be here now,” he said. “The process was difficult because of the time difference between the markets. Whenever I was going to bed, here in Austin, they were waking up and that made things more challenging.”
Austin FC needs Driussi. The Verde and Black are in last place of the 13-team Western Conference with 13 points through 15 matches. The club has won once since May 1 and was shut out in nine of the 11 matches leading into the Wednesday night match against the Houston Dynamo. Austin FC has scored a league-low 10 goals.
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Driussi was forced to quarantine after his arrival, training by himself and with the coaching staff in individual sessions. Wolff is already smitten with his new acquisition.
“He’s a fantastic kid, real charismatic, a natural leader who already has good communication with the guys,” Wolff said during media availability on Tuesday afternoon. “He’s been very receptive and he’s ready to get in with the group and play. He’s very aware of how we play, and that is what is really nice. He’s watched our games and he’s a very smart soccer player.”
Driussi doesn’t see Major League Soccer as a step down. Not anymore. The league’s reputation is growing, and he’s the proof. A player with the profile of Driussi doesn’t sign with an expansion club sitting at the bottom of the standings when he was a young kid at River Plate. Europe was the goal, and it probably still is, but Driussi is excited about his next challenge.
“MLS has changed in a good way and players across the world can see that. Many great players with big names are coming here, and not just to retire but to progress in their careers,” he said. “That tells you that the league is growing. It’ll be a great challenge for me and I’m ready.”