Thorns FC

'I've been here for a while': On the precipice of her 100th appearance, Rocky Rodríguez looks back at her six-year stint in the NWSL 

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The fastest goal in NWSL history came at Providence Park. Rocky Rodríguez scored it 24 seconds after kickoff and celebrated in front of the Rose City Riveters. However, on that day she wasn’t wearing red, but instead sky blue.

That goal is still one Rodríguez replays in her head, from the moment the ball hit the net to her celebration with teammate Natasha Kai. On her next game appearance, Rodríguez will officially hit 100 career NWSL appearances with Friday's match against the OL Reign being her next opportunity (7:30pm PT, TICKETS, CBS Sports Network) to achieve the milestone.

“Now thinking back on it, [scoring that goal] was pretty bold to do at Providence Park,” Rodríguez said.

Ahead of hitting the century mark, Rodríguez thought back to her first six full seasons in the league and discussed her growth both personally and professionally as well as the challenges she has overcome.

“[That total] reminded me that I’ve been here awhile,” Rodríguez said. “It hasn’t been an easy journey by any means. It’s the NWSL, which isn’t an easy league to remain in.”

A testament to years of hard work and training, Friday’s achievement carries greater significance than just a notable milestone. While 56 players have reached 100 appearances in the league’s decade-long history, the San José, Costa Rica, native is just the ninth international player to hit that total.

Although she didn’t know the specific percentage, Rodríguez wasn’t too surprised to learn that international players to reach 100 appearances totaled just 16%. In fact, she had a few ideas as to why that might have been, from the challenge of playing thousands of miles from home to league rules that present natural hurdles for international players to clear.

“Getting your foot in [the NWSL] is hard in itself,” Rodríguez said. “It’s super competitive and when you think of international players it’s even more so because there are only so many international spots. You’re competing against any other international player around the world that plays in your position.”

Rodríguez stuck her foot in the door as a college soccer player at Penn State, helping the Nittany Lions win their first-ever national championship in 2015 and earning the Mac Hermann Trophy as the nation's top college player. While relatively unknown when she first moved to the United States in 2011, Rodríguez quickly captured the attention of several coaches and was selected with the second overall pick in the 2016 NWSL College Draft by Sky Blue FC.

But breaking through in America also presented Rodríguez with one of her biggest challenges, one that won’t soon go away: the physical distance between her and her family. Now roughly 4,400 miles from home, Rodríguez said she only gets home once or twice a year and is lucky if her family sees her play in person even once a year.

In 2021, the Costa Rica Women's National Team played eight home games, a welcome anomaly that allowed Rodríguez to take several trips home and play in front of family more than she had since leaving San José over a decade ago.

“If [my parents] come and visit, which isn’t often at all, it will be just once a year,” Rodríguez said. “They watch all the games through Twitch, but if they see me play live it’s mostly only going to be with the national team if we play at home.”

While Rodríguez remembers the obstacles in her six-year pro career, one thing she brings up with pride is personal growth. Rodríguez calls herself her own worst critic and admits that she struggled both physically and mentally in the past. However, Rodríguez now beams when discussing how she has improved on treating herself better in recent years.

On the field, Rodríguez has too many memories from her first 100 NWSL appearances to count. The 24-second goal came to mind, but so did playing alongside one of the league’s most talented, up-and-coming international players.

“I will never forget the year that Sam Kerr became Sam Kerr,” Rodríguez said. “I was lucky enough to be in the team when she played for Sky Blue and we had a fun year.”

And, even while she just arrived in 2020, Rodríguez has already forged many new memories in Portland. Last season, she played an integral role in midfield for a Thorns team that won the 2021 Challenge Cup, the 2021 Women’s International Champions Cup and 2021 NWSL Shield.

Rodríguez has scored four goals and contributed three assists in 40 games for the club in all competitions, however her value lies beyond raw statistics. More so than jaw-dropping numbers, Rodríguez's movement both on and off the ball in midfield contribute to the system the Thorns want to run. In the team’s 2022 regular season home opener against Kansas City, she showcased her vision to find teammates in dangerous spaces and link the defense an attack.

With her next match, Rodríguez will finally hit NWSL appearance number 100, a moment seven seasons in the making. However, while a notable number, it will just be another milestone in a career that has seen Rodríguez overcome several personal obstacles, but also find great success. The goal for her now is continuing to build on it.

“I’m proud of being brave, leaving my home country and betting on myself,” Rodríguez said. “It hasn’t been easy for me, but here I am.”