Only two minutes into the quarterfinal of the 2015 Women’s World Cup, University of Southern California alumnus Amy Rodriguez found an opening. She slid between two Chinese defenders, left hand extended towards her foot. The pass came through, timed perfectly, and Rodriguez flicked it off the outside of her right foot. Immediately, she dropped her head into her palms — the ball veered wide left, missing the frame completely.
Turning away from the goal, Rodriguez flashed a quick thumbs-up to teammate Carli Lloyd, who fed her the ball. Fifty minutes later, when Lloyd knocked a header in to put the U.S. up 1–0, Rodriguez sprinted to her teammate, arms spread wide, grinning with joy.
Rodriguez wore the same look when the final buzzer sounded in Vancouver two weeks later, as she became one of 23 players to make history as part of the United States’ third Women’s World Cup victory.
By this point in her career, the USC alumni is accustomed to victory — a college national champion with her USC team in 2007, Rodriguez has won a championship with her club team — FC Kansas City — as well as earning two Olympic gold medals during her international career.
But for Amy Rodriguez, one success is never enough. And fresh off of a World Cup victory this July, her focus has already shifted toward a national championship later this month and another gold medal next summer.
“I think that the [national] team is always looking forward,” Rodriguez said. “We always want more and we never stop thinking about what’s coming down the road, who we need to beat next.”
Rodriguez’ passion for soccer — and her knack for winning trophies — began in Orange County, where she created a dominant presence as a forward at Santa Margarita Catholic High School. She was heavily recruited by California schools as early as freshman year, and verbally committed to USC at the beginning of her junior year.
Although she didn’t grow up cheering for any particular college team, Rodriguez’ uncle played tight end for the Trojans in 1983. The proximity of the school to her family, paired with its nationally-ranked soccer program, proved to be a perfect match.
As the 2005 Gatorade Player of the Year and Parade Magazine National Player of the Year, Rodriguez entered USC with heavy potential to become an offensive leader. She didn’t disappoint, leading the team with nine goals and a designation as the Pac-10 Freshman of the Year.
“I was coming in as a leader, and that could be uncomfortable at times because I was so young,” Rodriguez said. “But our team was so tight-knit. We understood that we needed to do whatever it took to win, and if that meant letting a freshman take charge of the offense, then that was what we were going to do.”
Continuing to follow the pace she set her freshman year, Rodriguez led the USC squad during her sophomore year, despite missing four games to play with the U.S. U-20 team in the World Championships. In her junior year, Rodriguez led the team in scoring on their march to the College Cup Championship, scoring both goals in the final. It was an impressive college career — but one that came with many choices.
“It came down to knowing what I wanted and deciding that I would do whatever it took to achieve those goals,” Rodriguez said. “That meant making sacrifices, but it was always worth it.”
One of the sacrifices she made was her degree. Rodriguez was set to graduate from USC in the spring of 2009. But as she finished her junior year of college, graduation wasn’t Rodriguez’ priority. She was headed to the 2008 Olympics, one of the 21 players selected for the national team roster.
She had already lightened her course load during USC season, reasoning that she would make up the units she needed in the off-season. But with senior year and the Olympics looming, Rodriguez realized that she would have to choose between graduating on time and following her dreams as an athlete.
Rodriguez chose soccer.
And it paid off. In her senior year, Rodriguez led the USC team in goals. She then went on to help the U.S. team win gold at the 2008 Olympics, returning to repeat the feat at the London Games in 2012.
Rodriguez headed back to Los Angeles to attend the courses she needed to complete her psychology major. And in 2013 — four years after her first Olympic gold medal and her expected graduation date — Rodriguez pulled on her cardinal and gold robe and walked to the graduation podium with the rest of the class of 2013.
“I was there, walking with all these young college kids with my big belly under my cap and gown,” Rodriguez said. “It probably looked hilarious, but for me it was just like — finally.”
A small group of women in blue huddle on the Swope Park field in Kansas City, Missouri. The team sprays on sunscreen and stretches taut muscles as they warm up for a Friday morning FC Kansas City practice. The team is one of nine in the National Women’s Soccer League, a three-year-old professional league growing in popularity after the World Cup.
Several girls shout out greetings as Rodriguez — referred to almost exclusively as “A-Rod” by her teammates — jogs in from the parking lot.
“Sorry I’m late,” Rodriguez says, shifting her bag higher on her shoulder. “It gets a little crazy in the mornings.”
Now, Rodriguez is adjusting to a balancing act that is even harder than the one she faced in college — splitting time between her soccer career and her son, Ryan, who turned two-years-old last week.
The pregnancy came as a slight surprise to Rodriguez and her husband, Adam in January 2013. Forced to take a break from soccer, Rodriguez was traded from Seattle to Kansas City. She took the trade as a challenge, and consulted a physical trainer to stay as fit as possible throughout her pregnancy. After Ryan’s birth, she began intensive training to return to NWSL play.
Less than a year after her son’s birth, Rodriguez scored both goals in the final match victory in the NWSL Championship. Six months later, she was announced as part of the 23-player U.S. World Cup roster, alongside fellow forwards Abby Wambach, Alex Morgan, Sydney Leroux and Christen Press.
Becoming a mother hasn’t slowed Rodriguez’ drive — in fact, it gave her balance and an increased confidence on the field. But it makes getting out the door for 9 a.m. practices a little harder. This morning, as her FC Kansas City teammates take to the field, Rodriguez squints slightly into the sun, focused on the final practice leading up to a championship-qualifying match against the Western New York Flash.
“I mean, if you want a boring interview, you came to the right place,” jokes Heather O’Reilly, a longtime FC Kansas City and Olympic teammate of Rodriguez. She leans against the fence surrounding the field, nudging Rodriguez’ ankle with her foot. “She’s our least interesting player. Least funny, too. She’s got some terrible jokes.”
“No one asked you, Tarheel,” Rodriguez responds with a grin, tugging her cleats on with one hand.
Her FC Kansas City teammates include four players from the most recent World Cup roster, and six Olympic gold medalists. Alongside Rodriguez and O’Reilly, the most notable players include defender Becky Sauerbrunn and midfielder Lauren Holiday, who scored the winning goal in the World Cup final.
Since the post-World Cup hype died down, FC Kansas City has become Rodriguez’ main focus. Never satisfied with one win, Rodriguez hopes to cap off “the perfect summer” with another NWSL championship win later in August before beginning the national team’s Victory Tour.
“I think that will always be my mentality,” Rodriguez said. “I love to celebrate what I accomplish, what my team accomplishes, but then it’s onto the next one, and the next, and the next.”