While her Penn State teammates were in Morgantown, WV, last weekend playing West Virginia and Pittsburgh, freshman forward Raquel Rodriguez was taking on Abby Wambach and the rest of the gold medal winning US women’s national soccer team on Saturday in Rochester, NY.
Not your typical 18-year-old freshman, Rodriguez was a member of the Costa Rican women’s national soccer team before coming to Penn State this fall. She has been playing high-level soccer with Costa Rica since she was 13 years old, where she led the U-17 national team to the FIFA World Cup in 2008, scoring one goal for the squad. Again helping Costa Rica to the U-20 World Cup in 2010 playing a role as a key offensive threat.
“Raquel comes [to Penn State] as a 23-year-old in terms of her experience,” coach Erica Walsh said. “Now we are just helping her understand the rigors of college soccer.”
On Saturday the young Costa Ricans fell 8-0 to the Americas, but Rodriguez was the go-to offensive player as she has the most international goals on the team at eight.
“When you play against the Americans, you have to expect them to be very intense and physical,” Rodriguez said. “I do not feel as much pressure anymore in these competitive games since I started playing so young [that] I had the past years to deal with that.”
While many college freshmen are figuring out the transition between high school sports and the collegiate level, Rodriguez has experienced this change of pace years before she played her first game donning the blue and white.
“She has played in front of crowds of 50,000 people. She played against the likes of Abby Wambach, so it probably means that players from the likes of Stanford don’t intimidate her like it would another first-year player,” Walsh said. “She understands that there is a level beyond this, and she gets that recognition. She very much appreciates this level, but that recognition puts it into perspective.”
For Rodriguez, the transition was not as simple as high school to college. It was from the international style of play to learning the dynamic of the American style.
“It was very different before I came to college, and going back and forth between the national team and the college team is very different,” Rodriguez said. “American-style soccer is very physical, and the whole dynamic is very different from what I am used to.”
Along with Rodriguez gone for the weekend, the Lions have to cope with the absence of two other international stars. Forwards Maya Hayes and Taylor Schram are both competing in the U-20 World Cup for the United States, who advanced to the finals this weekend after beating Nigeria 2-0.
“I think it is a tribute to our team as a whole to get into this environment and work hard. They improve and from that they get opportunities,” Walsh said. “As a program, we are really proud that these three individuals are taking advantage of these opportunities.”