It was bittersweet for Rodriguez when he decided to leave his hometown. He was hoping to land with another USL Championship team, but as the weeks went by, the offers didn’t come. And when we finally did, a few days before the start of pre-season, it was from a team of the next level. The Richmond Kickers, who were to be one of the clubs competing in the new USL League One from 2019, were interested.
The move was not ideal. He descended from the American football pyramid. But his goal on leaving his former club was to gain more minutes and be “the guy”, and that was lucky.
At the start of the 2019 season, Rodriguez had won the captain’s armband. He started all but a handful of games, making 23 appearances for the Kickers while scoring one goal (in his debut). Collectively, however, the team struggled, finishing the year in ninth place in a 10-team league.
“In the end, the same thing happened again,” Rodriguez said of his efforts to return to the USL Championship. “The teams were not completely convinced, especially at the level of the championship. The season was about to start. Still no club.
Rodriguez recalled the anxiety of receiving questions from friends, teammates and family – all asking him about his next destination. “It puts you off,” admitted Rodriguez. “I used to wake up every morning and think, ‘What am I training for? No club is asking me. Am I done? Am I hanging them up?'”
At the start of the 2020 season, Rodriguez was still without a team.
“My dad talked to me and asked if I had a backup plan,” said Rodriguez, who was facing a crossroads and asking himself some tough questions. “He was like, ‘we know you want to do this, and we want you to do this, but you have to look at your future and what’s going on.'”
After a few weeks of pondering what his post-game career would look like, the sports world has been brought to a standstill by the COVID-19 pandemic. There were rumors that the season would be canceled entirely and no one was playing games domestically.
“COVID hit, and it was obviously awful, but I saw an opportunity,” Rodriguez said. “I thought nobody was training, so let me be as fit as possible, let me train every day and let me grind.”
While balancing part-time jobs as a DoorDash and UPS driver, Rodriguez embarked on a new routine. He would wake up at 6 a.m. every day, train for two or three hours, go to work a shift at one of his jobs, take a nap, train again and repeat the same process on next day.
He used a friend’s home gym during lockdown and bought a few footballs from Amazon to keep his skills up. Even her parents’ garden became part of her high-intensity interval training regimen.
“Some days I would wake up feeling very sure that something was going to happen,” said Rodriguez, who was in the best physical shape of his life. “I was training and feeling super fit and amazing. But some days I would wake up thinking, ‘Why am I training? What I’m doing doesn’t make sense. therefore had to fight against this roller coaster of emotions.
One day, in 2021, it finally happened. Rodriguez received a text from his agent that Detroit City FC was interested, then the third-tier National Independent Soccer Association (NISA).
The club were looking for a central midfielder. Coach Trevor James invited Rodriguez to fly to Detroit for a tryout and see if he liked the club and the city. After only three days of trial, he obtained a contract for the 2021 season.