RODRIGUEZ SET FOR CUP OPENER
With the US U-20 team set to start their World Cup campaign against Spain, Mario Rodriguez is confident in his team's chances.
Rodriguez, 19, has been part of most of the U-20 camps this past cycle and was on the World Cup qualifying team in February where he had a goal and two assists in the tournament. In 2012, he played in seven games (five starts) for the US U-20s and had three goals and one assist.
Even despite battling an illness early in the week, he feels ready to go against Spain and is looking forward to seeing the team's hard work over the past two years come together against one of the world's most powerful soccer countries.
"It's a privilege to play for national team, with this group of guys, and to be selected to the World Cup team," Rodriguez told YA. "It's very hard but I think with these guys and their ambition, we're going to be a hard team to beat. Hopefully we get the results we want."
It hasn't been a smooth year for Rodriguez. On the club front, he has been with Kaiserslautern the past year but paperwork problems prevented him from playing with the team until March. When finally was cleared to play with the German club's U-19 team, he performed well at one point scoring 10 goals in seven games. His play helped Kaiserslautern's U-19 team to promotion.
Despite the solid play and promotion, he will not return to Kaiserslautern with his contract expiring and will instead look to sign with another club in Germany this summer after the World Cup. He recalls that it was a difficult experience not being able to play but enjoyed his time at Kaiserslautern overall.
"As a team I felt that we did great," Rodriguez said of his Kaiserslautern season. "We accomplished a lot. I was a great feeling playing with them. It's something I can't explain. It was beautiful. It was very difficult not being able to play and watching them play every day. But I'm a very religious guy and asked for strength and patience. I made it through. It was nice to help the team out in difficult situation and winning the finals."
Rodriguez has been an asset for US U-20 head coach Tab Ramos because of his versatility to play any of the three attacking positions up top in a 4-3-3 formation. Most of the appearances for Ramos have been from the wing positions but at Kaiserslautern he primarily played centrally. He stresses that he is comfortable at any position but would "play defense if they need me."
In the most recent game, the US defeated Portugal 3-1 in a friendly last Friday. In the game, Rodriguez drew a foul that Jose Villarreal would score on the ensuing free kick for the game's opening goal. Rodriguez did not play in the Toulon Tournament earlier in the month where the US had mixed results but he believes the win over Portugal, however, gave the team momentum heading into the World Cup.
"We needed confidence playing against a European team in Europe," he said. "It's definitely something that boosted us. It was a good win and now we're looking ahead to Spain."
The task ahead at the World Cup will be even more difficult as both France and Spain are contenders to win the tournament while Ghana has historically been a strong team at the youth level. Rodriguez acknowledges the challenge but insists that he and his teammates are not focuses on the historical reputation of their opponents.
"I do feel that we're the underdogs because Spain, France, and Ghana have all been in so many big competitions and they've very well," Rodriguez concluded. "They're reputation is higher. As a team we don't really focus on that. We just want to play and do our best."