From Costa Rica To Happy Valley: The Journey Of Raquel Rodriguez
Since she was four years old, Raquel “Rocky” Rodriguez has loved the game of soccer. After being introduced to the sport by her father during her early years, Rodriguez is now a captain of the Penn State women’s soccer team, and shined for Costa Rica’s National Team many times. Rodriguez is doing great things for herself, her team, and her country.
Born in San Jose, Costa Rica, she was raised by her father and mother, Siavanni Rodriguez and Grettel Cedeño. Rodriguez calls her father and her family the biggest influences on her soccer career. Rodriguez’s father raised Raquel around the game, as he played professionally in Costa Rica.
“My father introduced the sport to me when I was four and taught me all the basics,” Rodriguez said. “Since that young of an age, he instilled not only disciplinary values and hard working, but also having academics as a priority. I grew up with him not only as a dad, but as a coach.”
After learning the basics of the game around four years old, Rodriguez showed a lot of promise at a young age. In 2008, Rodriguez made her Costa Rica National Team start with the U-17 team. There, Rodriguez shot up the ranks and became one of the country’s premier midfielders, eventually moving up to the U-20 squad, and then the women’s National Team in 2012. Since then, she leads all players who played for Costa Rica in the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup in goals with 24.
Rodriguez has played and shined on some of the largest stages in women’s soccer, from winning a gold medal at the 2013 Central America Games, to winning a silver medal at the 2014 CONCACAF World Championships, to leading Costa Rica to its first Women’s World Cup appearance in 2015.
Rodriguez’s three goals in the 2014 CONCACAF World Championships helped Costa Rica reach the final. Her and her team’s performance resulted in a World Cup bid, and a 2014 CONCACAF Female Player of the Year nomination for Rodriguez — the only amateur player nominated for a Player of the Year award. In the 2015 Women’s World Cup, Rodriguez shined by scoring Costa Rica’s first Women’s World Cup goal in a 1-1 draw with Spain.
“It was a dream come true,” Rodriguez said. “I knew I wanted to score in the World Cup, and the fact that it was the first-ever goal in a World Cup made it very special. I couldn’t go to sleep that night. Just being in the World Cup was an honor, and it was huge for me. It was the biggest stage I’ve played on.”
She had established herself as a star in Costa Rica, so Rodriguez was anxiously anticipated in Happy Valley when she arrived in 2012. Even though she had many options, Rodriguez felt like Penn State was where she needed to be.
“I was looking to come to the States, I just didn’t know where yet,” Rodriguez said. “I was at a tournament with the U-20 national team, and coach [Walsh] happened to be there. I didn’t know anything about Penn State before then, but my dad and I did research after the tournament and we could tell the quality of the Penn State from just looking at it. So between University of Texas, University of Miami, and Penn State, Penn State was the best fit for me academically and athletically.”
Even though she came from a different background, Rodriguez made a new home at Penn State and displayed her ability immediately at the college level. Penn State did everything it could to make her comfortable in her new surroundings, providing her with the support and resources she needed to succeed. It worked, as the comfort she felt at Penn State translated to stellar play for the Nittany Lions.
In her freshman season, Rodriguez started in 24 of 25 games and had four goals. Rodriguez’s performance during her freshman year earned her Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors, All-Big Ten second team, All-Big Ten freshman team, and NSCAA All-Great Lakes third team.
Rodriguez’s solid play carried into her second season with the Nittany Lions, as she scored six goals and had a team-leading nine assists which led to NSCAA All-Great Lakes third team honors again in 2013, and also earned Academic All-Big Ten honors. Rodriguez’s best season came in 2014, where she scored seven goals with three assists and earned the Big Ten Midfielder of the Year award, another Academic All-Big Ten honor, and many others. Head Coach Erica Walsh has enjoyed the time coaching Rodriguez.
“It’s been an absolute pleasure to coach [Raquel Rodriguez],” Walsh said. “She’s unique in so many ways, and is one of the most respectful young ladies I’ve ever spent time with. She’s very appreciative of the opportunity that she has, and she makes you as a coach appreciate everything we’re given here at Penn State, she’s one of a kind.”
“Rocky” wants to continue her soccer career after Penn State. While she obviously still wants to win a National Championship, Rodriguez aspires to play professional soccer, whether it is in the United States or overseas.
At the age of 22, Rodriguez is one of the most talented women’s soccer players that Penn State and Costa Rica have ever seen. Her performances have brought her teams to the highest level of competition, whether that is another round of the NCAA tournament or the World Cup. As she departs from Dear Old State, she will use the experiences throughout her career as a Nittany Lion to bring her a high level of soccer, no matter where that is.