PORTLAND, Ore. — Welcome to the Rose City, Raquel "Rocky" Rodriguez.
"I love it and I don't even know the best of it," Rodriguez saID with a smile. "The very day that I traveled here was the first day of quarantine."
The Portland Thorns added some extra firepower to the roster. A soccer phenom growing up in Costa Rica, Rodriguez played on the local high school team when she was in elementary school. She was invited to play on the Costa Rican National Team when she was 11 years old.
"The coach just wanted me to train with the team to keep developing me and I trained for six months with them when I was 11," said Rodriguez. "Then, I didn't come back until I was 13. Since then, I've been on the international team. So yeah, I was very young."
She took her father's advice and moved away from home to pursue her soccer dreams.
"People are still fighting battles here in America for equal pay, which is great, but in Costa Rica we are way behind, so I knew that if I wanted to reach my potential, I had to leave Costa Rica," Rodriguez explained.
After leading Penn State to a national championship, she was part of history, helping Costa Rica reach its first World Cup. Rodriguez made a splash in the National Women's Soccer League, named Rookie of the Year. She was acquired by the Thorns in a trade with Sky Blue FC and now the 26-year-old is ready to make an impact in Portland.
"As a mix midfielder, I can definitely attack, I can definitely defend as well. I think I'm a link in between lines vertically and horizontally. That's one of the biggest things I can bring for the team," Rodriguez said.
The countdown is on for the return of soccer. The Thorns are scheduled to leave Portland on Wednesday, June 24, and play their first match on June 27 at Zions Bank Stadium in Herriman, Utah. All nine of the league's teams will live in the area and compete in a World Cup-style tournament called the Challenge Cup.
"Every game counts and every point counts. It's going to be a lot," said Rodriguez. "Excited for sure and also aware of the mental challenge that it's going to be."
The NWSL is scheduled to be the first American sports league to resume play since the coronavirus pandemic.
"If something goes wrong, other sports and leagues can learn from this, but at the same time, it's an opportunity for people to follow women's soccer," said Rodriguez. "I think that has been a challenge in the U.S. Soccer is the king sport around the world, but not in the U.S., so I like to see it as an opportunity."