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What Koke Vegas will bring Rhode Island FC as its first signing

By NICHOLAS MURRAY - nicholas.murray@uslsoccer.com, 11/01/23, 10:00AM EDT

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Spanish goalkeeper’s arrival is instructive on potential set-up for 2024 expansion club


Rhode Island FC's signing of Koke Vegas as it first player provides insight as to the sort of on-field club Head Coach and General Manager Khano Smith is aiming to produce in 2024. | Photo courtesy Ben Nichols / San Diego Loyal SC

Rhode Island FC announced on Wednesday that Spanish goalkeeper Koke Vegas has joined the 2024 USL Championship expansion club as its first signing. The former San Diego Loyal SC shot-stopper is the first piece of RIFC’s General Manager and Head Coach Khano Smith’s roster build, with more anticipated to be announced in the coming weeks.

Here are three takeaways we have from the signing.

1. SETTING THE STYLE

The most important thing we might take from Koke Vegas’ signing with Rhode Island is the style in which Khano Smith is aiming for his side to play next season. Vegas’ ability on the ball over the past two seasons with San Diego was a key part of its possession-based style, with the 28-year-old stepping in as a quasi-center back at times when SD Loyal built out of defense. This year, Vegas had the second-highest total in the Championship’s regular season among goalkeepers with 1,197 completed passes – only Phoenix Rising FC’s Rocco Rios Novo (1,285) had more – making his distribution and composure on the ball a valuable asset for the new club.

2. FINDING A HIGHER LEVEL

There have been no shortage of spectacular saves Koke Vegas has made during his two seasons in the Championship, but the big question for the Spaniard will be whether he can raise his level of consistency game-to-game. Vegas’ save percentage of 65.5 percent was right around league average, while his Goals Prevented mark – Goals Conceded minus Expected Goals on Shots on Target – stood at +4.74. That’s not ideal, although San Diego’s propensity to leave itself susceptible on the counterattack played a role. But it certainly helps if you have a goalkeeper that can make big saves when they need to. Sacramento Republic FC goalkeeper and 2023 Golden Glove winner Danny Vitiello, for example, sat at -3.12 this regular season. That’s the space where Vegas will want to improve to help his new squad.

3. LEADING THE ROOM

Some of the best first signings in USL Championship club histories have been about what a player can deliver on the field. Just look at Rodrigo Lopez at Sacramento Republic FC, Devon Sandoval at New Mexico United, or Luke Vercollone at Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC. What all three of those players also brought was a level of leadership that helped shape the culture of what the club was going to be. With experience in LaLiga and LaLiga2 in his career, Vegas can provide that for Rhode Island while also having a good understanding of what it takes to win in the Championship after these past two seasons.

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