Moving 3,000 miles away from home isn’t easy. Raquel “Rocky” Rodríguez experienced that firsthand when she came to the United States, from her native Costa Rica.
Now a veteran within the National Women’s Soccer Leagueand 2022 NWSL champion with the Portland Thorns FC, Rodríguez spoke about her journey to the US, attending college at Penn State University and the pride she has for Costa Rica in an NBC Podcast, “My New Favorite Futbolista.”
Rodríguez was touted as a prodigy growing up in San José, Costa Rica. However, when she was younger, Rodríguez endured a lack of resources for women’s soccer players in the country. The midfielder said that, at age 7, she had “football running through my veins.” Her father, a few years before, opened up a football school.
“She would play with kids who were three, four years older than her,” her father, Sivianni Rodríguez, said. “We saw she adapted, and she even exceeded a lot. She had discipline and perseverance.”
Rodríguez wrote down her goals early on. She wanted to, due to the lack of resources in Costa Rica, play soccer collegiately in the United States. She also wanted to represent the Ticas at the international level, and she wanted to play in a World Cup. She accomplished all of those goals by 2015, when Costa Rica featured in the nation’s first-ever FIFA Women’s World Cup. Rodríguez had been on the national team long before that, making her debut in 2008, at the young age of 13.
However, the collegiate part wasn’t so simple. As an international recruit, the process was much longer than a domestic recruit. At the Concacaf Women’s Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Canada in 2012, Rodríguez met Erica Walsh — now Erica Dambach — the head coach of Penn State.
“I didn’t know anything about college rankings. I didn’t know anything. When my dad and I returned to Costa Rica, we searched for Penn State,” Rodríguez said. “We saw pictures and thought it was great. I was very afraid. I had a lot of questions, and my parents had a lot of questions. We weren’t playing hard to get, we just had a lot of questions.”
However, the Tica ran into an issue with transferring credits to the NCAA.
“At the end, I was supposed to travel on a Sunday morning, and on Friday, I still hadn’t received a response,” she explained. “I was still waiting for the only call that would tell me if I could fly or not, or if I needed to wait another semester or not.
“I went for a run, but I couldn’t. I started to cry, and cry, and cry. I wanted to leave, and when I went back home, I had a couple of missed calls. I called my coach back and asked her, ‘Am I going or not?’ She said, ‘Yes, you can come! The credit issue has been resolved. Let’s go! Yeah, you’re clear!’”
In 2015, Rodríguez won the MAC Herman Trophy, given out each year to the nation’s top collegiate soccer player. She, and Penn State, won the NCAA Championship in 2015 over Duke.
As a professional, Rodríguez was the first Costa Rican to ever play in the NWSL, after being selected by Sky Blue FC — now NJ/NY Gotham FC — in the 2016 NWSL Draft, the draft’s second overall selection. She was traded to the Portland Thorns in 2020, and has since won the 2021 NWSL Challenge Cup and the 2022 NWSL Championship. Her parents saw her play professionally for the first time in the United States at the championship in Washington, DC
Now, Rodríguez is gearing up for her second FIFA Women’s World Cup, and could be named the captain with Shirley Cruz retired from professional and international soccer. Rodríguez spoke with pride of representing Costa Rica, despite the struggles of lacking resources in her early years.
“Every time I return to Costa Rica, I appreciate the little things. I was young when I left,” she explained. “I was 18 years old, and I only saw the bad, and what frustrated me with my country. But as I grew older, I would go, and then come back. It’s who I am, and nothing will be able to erase it. It doesn’t matter how many years I’ve been here.
“I feel a deep gratitude to both countries, all the people who were involved and we’re going to see what else follows in the upcoming years.”
We spoke with Rodriguez after her first year in Portland: