There are few players in the NWSL today who you can say truly transform a team’s play when they step onto the pitch. But Sky Blue’s Raquel Rodriguez is definitely one of those players. Every time she steps out onto the field, Sky Blue’s play becomes more dynamic and more focused.
We saw just how much her presence can affect the tone of a game at Saturday’s match-up between Sky Blue and the Chicago Red Stars. When she checked into the game in the 56th minute, the midfield’s play started to shift in Sky Blue’s favor. And you wouldn’t be hard-pressed to link her play in the midfield to Sam Kerr’s extraordinary feats of late-game scoring, as Rodriguez’s movement on the ball helps to create space for Kerr and the other forwards to do their thing.
In her rookie season, she was awarded Rookie of the Year, and became the first non-American to bear the title. And now, in just her second season as a pro, Rodriguez has made the center of the midfield her dominion to rule over.
With a large share of the pressure to control the midfield on Rodriguez’s shoulders, she approaches it game-by-game. But aAs I watch her week in and week out I can’t help but get flashbacks to when a young Lauren Holiday moved to center midfield. Rodriguez has the same spark that Holiday displayed, the same sense of being the spine of the team, the same drive to grow and learn as a player. They both can take a team on their back and deliver out of this world results. It’s just a matter of time before we see Rodriguez playing at the level of Lauren Holiday in her prime.
Backline Soccer: Your rookie season was about as good as could be, you won Rookie of the Year. A lot of players seem to have sophomore slumps, but you seem to have avoided that so far. You’ve had a couple late goals. You’ve played well. Is that something you’re sort of taking game-by-game? Or are you saying, you know, I want to have that type of season every year. I don’t want a slump. Is that in your head or is it just game-by-game?
Rodriguez: I think during the season I take it game by game. My first off-season was this past one, and I think one thing that I learned from the rookie season where I came in knowing nothing more than what I heard, to come in the second season, I think the off-season was really key to feeling prepared for this game. But during the season I take it game-by-game. I always want to get better season after season. But that also means that every day I take care of the little things and then that will take care of the big picture. So I take it game by day.
Learning from the game and fellow teammates is something that any good player should do. As much as Orlando or Houston considered to be packed with international players, Sky Blue, too, has their share of national team-quality players from all around the world. Players from Sky Blue have caps with Canada, Australia, England, American and Costa Rica.
Backline Soccer: You have a lot of internationals on the team this year, but they tend to go unnoticed because they’re not from teams like Germany or France. Is that sort of nice that you can learn from these different styles, you don’t have to necessarily play the American style, you have other things to learn from?
Rodriguez: 100%. I think I’m a person who tries to learn wherever I go with whatever experience I live. But, I mean, you’re totally right. Whether it’s Americans, Canadians, Australians, English, I learn every day from world class players. And I think that’s also the standard from this team, and we push each other and we learn from each other. So 100%. It’s a blessing to be in this team.
But it isn’t just Sky Blue that Rodriguez puts on a uniform for. The Costa Rican international has been playing for her country’s senior team since 2010. With over 30 goals tallied for her country, she is an up-and-coming superstar at the international level. In fact, Rodriguez scored Costa Rica’s first ever Women’s World Cup goal in their tournament debut back in 2015.
Backline Soccer: Costa Rica went to the 2015 Women’s World Cup, you scored the first Costa Rican goal in the World Cup. Do you have your sights on 2019? Are you in “we’re going to go to the World Cup again” mode?
Rodriguez: 100%. I think when I think about that, I really want it really bad. You know I want to–we all want to come back to the World Cup in 2019. That’s the goal, of course. I think qualifiers are next year, 2018, so that’s something that is in the back of my head, being a Costa Rican national player. It’s the dream, it’s a dream that I carry in my heart, and I know that my teammates do as well. So anything that I learn here in the international level, here in the NWSL, it’s to bring back to Costa Rica.
And on the topic of captains? Rodriguez considers herself blessed.
Backline Soccer: I spoke to Kailen Sheridan a little bit last week. She has Christine Sinclair and Christie Pearce as her country and club captain, respectively. You have Shirley Cruz and Christie Pearce. Shirley Cruz is sort of a big figure in Costa Rican soccer in general, and internationally as well. Is it nice to have two captains of that sort of experience level, and you can sort of learn from those two captain styles?
Rodriguez: For sure. I think, again I try to learn always, but you know it is an honor and a blessing. Like you mentioned, the two of them. It truly is an honor because they are legends. I say it’s a blessing because you know them as the people they are–not only as the soccer players they are, and the public figures they are. And when you get to know them personally then it just adds that little more you know, it’s a blessing and an honor, truly.
There are players that you can watch just because the way they play the game, who they are in the game, is pure joy to witness. Raquel Rodriguez is one of those players. When she is good she lights up to pitch in a way so few can. And she’s always pretty damn good.
As far as France in 2019? I fully expect to watch Costa Rica take the field for their second Women’s World Cup appearance and to see Rodriguez there with them.