RODRIGUEZ AIMING HIGH AT XOLOS
Club Tijuana first team already features three Americans on the first team and next season, Stevie Rodriguez hopes to join his countrymen for their second ever season in the Mexican Primera.
Rodriguez, 18, joined Club Tijuana at the end of July after playing in the Chivas USA system. Since then h has been a consistent starter for the club's U-20 team and has played with the first team in February for a friendly against his old club, Chivas USA.
The change in leagues has worked out well so far for Rodriguez but like any youngster the biggest challenges have come in adapting to life off the field.
"I'm adapting pretty quick to the new life style but the soccer is really good," Rodriguez told YA. "I'm liking it. In the US, your parents take you to practice and you live at home. Here you live alone and you have make your own food and take care of yourself."
Rodriguez is known as an attacking central midfielder but Tijuana have taken advantage of his versatility. This far they have played him primarily playing him as a defensive midfielder.
The transition has gone well even if Rodriguez still feels out of position in a defensive role.
"They play me as a defensive midfielder," Rodriguez explained. "My natural position is attacking midfielder in the middle. I'm getting used to the position. I like attacking more than I like defending but if the coach wants me there, I have to force myself to play there. But I want to play attacking mid more than I want to play defensive midfield."
Rodriguez is just one of many Americans in the Tijuana system. The first team consists of Edgar Castillo, Greg Garza, and Joe Corona. The U-20 team has Rodriguez and Bryan De La Fuente. Alejandro Guido trains with the first team but signed after the registration date.
Like all the American players in the Tijuana system, Rodriguez was born in the United States to Mexican American parents. His first language is English however he speaks Spanish around his mother. He grew up in California about three hours from Tijuana and often goes home for a day after games.
Rodriguez is very ambitious and is optimistic that next season he can begin earning first team minutes in league play in the Mexican Primera.
"I've started all the games for the club's U-20 team," Rodriguez discussed. "Right now, I'm just training hard and hopefully I'll debut soon. The season is about to end. In the beginning of the next season, hopefully I'll be on the bench for the first team."
One of the reasons why Rodriguez is optimistic is that he is confident that he is improving quickly in Mexico. He has now spent time developing his game on both sides of the boarder and after three months in Mexico, he believes it is a better place for him as a young professional.
"Mexico is more technical and playing with the ball," Rodriguez pointed out. "In the US, it's more kickball - bigger and stronger guys battling for the ball. I like the style here in Mexico more. I like the technique."
On the international front, Rodriguez is also progressing. Last year he was on the US U-17 World Cup team. This year he has moved up and has played recently with the US U-18 team.
When he was with the U-18s last month, new coach Javier Perez played Rodriguez out of position at forward. While the camp went well, Rodriguez's goals in 2012 is to catch the eye of US U-20 coach Tab Ramos and make his way onto that team as it builds towards U-20 World Cup qualifying early next year.
"It was good," Rodriguez said of the U-18 camp last month. "It was a young team and I was [one of the] the oldest ones there. I was playing forward. Wherever the coach wants me to play, I'll play. [The U20's] are my goal right now. I'm working hard and hopefully they'll call me."
Like many players in the US system, Rodriguez is a dual national and had options to play for another country. The US and Mexico share a fierce rivalry but Rodriguez has strong feelings for both countries.
When he was invited to join the U-17 team for the United States, Rodriguez accepted the callup enthusiastically and he had the support of his Mexican-born family. So far he is happy with the decision he made.
"My family wanted me to do what I want and what was best for me," Rodriguez concluded. "I thought the US was really giving me a chance with them. I just took it and I don't regret."