Rodriguez experiences growing pains
A rebound shot in the 40th minute, from 20 yards out â for the lead.
Amy Rodriguez is used to scoring. She scored 31 goals while at USC from 2005-2008 âfourth on the schoolâs all-time list. She scored 17 goals in 70 appearances on the international circuit.
But this goal was particularly timely. It didnât just cushion a lead. It didnât come in the waning minutes of a blowout. Instead, it put the U.S. womenâs national soccer team up 1-0 over Italy in a qualifying match last November, propelling the United States to an eventual 2-0 victory over the Italians and a berth in the 2011 FIFA World Cup.
âThe shot was deflected, there was a scramble in the box and I just got a foot on it,â Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez has had a flair for finding the net â she remains among the best scorers in womenâs soccer today.
In the last three years alone, she has become USCâs first soccer medalist, earning a gold medal while playing for the United States in the 2008 Olympic Games, starting four of five games and scoring against New Zealand in group play and going No. 1 overall to the Boston Breakers in the 2009 Womenâs Professional Soccer draft.
âThatâs expected of her,â said Ali Khosroshahin, who coached Rodriguez for two seasons at USC. âSheâs always had a great attitude; a willingness to work and learn.â
Yet, despite her offensive prowess and experience playing for the national team, the 5-foot-4 forward underwent her fair share of growing pains during last monthâs World Cup.
Through five tournament games, all of which she started, Rodriguez was held scoreless, failing to connect on any of her nine shots â three of which were on goal.
âI did feel my performance was solid, very consistent,â Rodriguez said. âYeah, I wish I would have put a goal up on the scoreboard for my team, but we won every game I played in.â
Although failing to score, she still had plenty of opportunities. Her ratio of shots on goal was 33.3 percent, good for third best among the teamâs starters.
âAmy created some opportunities for herself and for her teammates,â Khosroshahin said. âShe wasnât able to capitalize on those opportunities for herself, but Amyâs a strong player and gets better as the game goes on.â
She didnât, however, get that chance.
In the moments prior to the United Statesâ championship match against Japan on July 17, coach Pia Sundhage announced that Megan Rapinoe â not Rodriguez â would start in the final at forward, marking the first time she had not started all tournament.
âI was so excited to be in the World Cup final that I think it didnât matter that I was sitting on the bench,â Rodriguez said.Â âWhen the time came and if the coach needed me, I was going to be ready.â
But that time never came.
Although FIFA rules allow teams to make three substitutions per game, Sundhage opted to make just two.
In the 45th minute, Alex Morgan entered the game at forward for an injured Lauren Cheney, and in the 114th, Tobin Heath came in for Rapinoe. Rodriguez, who had scored three goals in the teamâs previous three games against Japan, never left the bench.
âI think, when a player has that kind of a streak going on, you give her a few minutes, especially when they got into overtime and had a sub left,â Khosroshahin said. âBut then again, Iâm not there. Itâs not my decision.â
With Rodriguez stuck on the sidelines, the United States squandered its lead not once but twice.
Following a goal from Morgan in the 69th minute, Japanâs Aye Miyama scored from five yards out, tying the game at one, after the United States failed to clear the ball in front of its own goal. Thirteen minutes after an Abby Wambach goal gave the United States a 2-1 lead, Homare Sawa flicked in a corner kick to knot the game at two.
Eventually, Japan won 3-1 on penalty kicks.
âWe gave it all that we could,â Rodriguez said. âAnd on that day, it just wasnât enough. But credit Japan. They played very well and have excellent P.K. shooters.â
For Rodriguez this is just the beginning. At age 24, she will likely play in at least one, possibly even two more World Cups, plus the 2012 or 2016 Olympics.
âShe is only going to get better,â Khosroshahin said. âWe havenât seen the best of her. I think sheâs going to be playing for a very long time.â