July 18, 2008

Rodriguez Hopes to Make Impact at Summer Olympics

By John Philip Wyllie

On March 11, 2005 Amy Rodriguez became just the second Hispanic woman to ever play on the U.S. National Soccer Team. On August 8, she and her teammates will be in China to participate in the opening ceremonies of the Summer Olympics.

The team paid a visit to USD’s Torero Stadium Wednesday night where they played Women’s World Cup Champion Brazil for the second time in four days. On Sunday, Rodriguez scored the winning goal in the first match of the two-game series after coming on at forward following the intermission. As a result of her timely goal, the 21-year old USC senior has been receiving an unusual amount of media attention. It is not the first time.

Back when she joined the team ESPN Latino dropped in on one of her practices.

“We were training one day at USC and they stopped by in order to do a feature on me in Spanish,” Rodriguez recalled. “They wanted me to speak Spanish in it, but I had to tell them I’m sorry, I only know a little.”

Regrettably, the language has not been passed down, but Rodriguez remains interested in and proud of her family’s origins and culture.

Wednesday’s game brought her Cuban-born grandfather and several other members of the Rodriguez side of her family to San Diego from their homes in the Lake Forest area. Next it will be on to Beijing. Olympic coach Pia Sundhage knows she can count on Rodriguez to give the team a spark.

“Amy offers us speed up top and she has done very well for us coming off the bench. Whether she plays nine minutes or 45 she does very well. She gives us another gear in the second half,” Sundhage said.

Coming into 2008 Rodriguez had just five caps or national team appearances, but in recent months she has become a mainstay on the team and starred in January’s Four Nations Tournament. She has beaten back intense competition and won her role on the team with her combination of speed and hustle and her uncanny ability to score goals when they are needed most.

“It is not easy playing against these girls and proving yourself out there. Every day is a new day with new challenges. It didn’t come easily for me. It has been a tough seven months. I am happy that I have worked my way into the top 18 and I am fortunate that Pia has given me a chance to play on this Olympic squad,” Rodriguez said.

“I realize that I am still learning. This is all knew to me. I have improved a lot as a member of this team. By having these great players to practice with every day I have made a lot of progress. I know I still have a long way to go, but hopefully with these Olympics I will keep getting better and better.”

Although they are the reigning Olympic Champions, the U.S. will have its work cut out for it if it hopes to repeat next month. They should be in the hunt, but after being humbled 4-0 by Brazil in the last World Cup the Americans realize that they will have to bring their A-game in order to be successful.

By winning Olympic Gold in ’96 and 2004 and World Cups in 1991, 1999 the pioneers of women’s soccer such as Michelle Akers, Mia Hamm and Julie Foudy have raised to bar of expectations for this current team and cast a huge shadow.

“We have some huge shoes to fill. Hopefully we can carry on the great tradition that this team has always had. We want to prove to the world that we are still number one.”

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