Houston Dynamo

Still grinding, but butterflies back for Sporting Kansas City’s Memo Rodriguez

“Sometimes I go home and rewatch the games, even myself. Even if I had a good game against Houston, I’ll turn to my wife and say, ‘Hey, I can do a lot better. I can take it to the next level.’” Sporting Kansas City midfielder Memo Rodriguez to Thad Bell of kcsoccerjournal.com

After their 2-1 loss to Houston May 11, 2024 – the sixth match in their current string of winless in seven – Sporting Kansas City Manager Peter Vermes lamented some of his players’ lack of effort, saying a player cannot “walk into the stadium and can’t step into the field” and “miss the most important ingredient.”

After that match and in the Thursday presser leading up to Saturday’s 3-2 loss at Austin FC, Vermes lauded Rodriguez: “Memo has stepped up; you can see his intensity. Those are things I appreciate,” Vermes stated. “Other guys have to use that as a model and emulate it.”

The Journey

Loss and varying degrees of success have been continual company in Memo Rodriquez’s life and career. Yet, the Texas native knows effort and its triumph. Before Memo was even born, his father perished in a car accident. The effort his mother, Velia, made to get Memo to high-end training and competition more than an hour away from home nearly weekly for 12 years showed him the way, a way that Memo internalized. And it paid off as Rodriguez signed with Houston Dynamo in December of 2014 as their sixth-ever Homegrown product at age eighteen. Yet, after only one season toiling at Houston’s USL affiliate club Charleston Battery, Rodriguez was released by the Dynamo.

But in 2017, nearly three years after signing as a Houston Dynamo homegrown, Rodriguez was re-signed and went on to score 17 goals and assist on 14 others in 81 starts and 136 appearances in the next six seasons, reaching his apex with 7 goals and 5 assists in 2019 to win Houston’s Young Player of the Year. Over time, however, production dwindled, though his minutes did not. After the 2022 season, Houston declined his option, leaving Rodriguez as a free agent.

“[My time in Houston] taught me hard lessons,” he reflected, “and I am in the position today where I can help the younger generation go through hard times and say, ‘It’s going to happen. You have to grow as a player and a person and fight through it.’”

Here and There

Leaving all Rodriguez had ever known came when signing with Los Angeles Galaxy in January of 2023.

“It was tough, especially leaving Houston to LA for the first time. Just being away from family – my wife and my son – being away for the first time,” said Rodriguez. ”[But] it was more hard on them.”

Less than eight months later – likely due at least partly to player request – Rodriguez was traded back closer to home as Austin FC came calling in August of 2023. A new leash on life seemed within reach as home was closer and Austin FC needed a shot in the arm as they fought to make the playoffs. Nine appearances and less than four months later, Rodriguez was released.

“[Being a professional soccer player] is a grind. People think it’s easy: you wake up and play soccer and that’s that,” relayed Rodriguez. “But we go through different emotions that we have to control. We have to grind through, but your opportunity will come and you have to go out there and take it.”

Now nine plus years later after the joy of signing with Houston as a homegrown, Rodriguez is with Sporting Kansas City on its Supplemental Roster, those up to ten in number whose salaries do not count against the club’s budget charge.

Right fit?

The dream of playing for the hometown team had come to an end. Gigs at the glamour of LA and the hope of Austin had petered out. Again, Rodriguez had left Texas for another pasture, this one somewhat in replacement of a vital ingredient in Sporting Kansas City’s mix – the creative attacking prowess of Gadi Kinda. At the prime age of 28, Rodriguez finds himself at a crossroads.

“Is this the right fit for you at the moment?” Thad Bell of kcsoccerjournal.com asked Rodriguez in a one-on-one interview last week. “Yeah. I am really enjoying my time here. Even my family is enjoying their time here. If I see them happy, and they see me happy, it gets the best out of me. I can do my job,” replied Rodriguez. “I have to do my job because this is what we work for everyday: to be the best player that we can be.”

As surprising as it was for all to see Rodriguez sporting a platinum head of hair at the reunion match with Houston two weeks ago (it takes a purple shampoo to maintain btw), the surprise has been his.

“I’m really surprised with the way I’ve adapted to the team. I always played against [Sporting] as I stayed in the [Western Conference] for most of my career, so I knew what I was coming into. I always liked the way they played and their playing style,” said Rodriguez. “I think I’ve adapted well. Obviously, there is a great group of guys. It feels like family here. I guess I picked the right spot. I really feel at home here, and hopefully I’m here for many years to come.”

Butterflies can also soar 

“[Memo] has been better [than I expected]. He has a whole other ceiling in front of him. His potential can be so high because he is a really smart player,” said Vermes in last week’s Thursday presser. “There is no doubt in my mind the way that we play fits his qualities, and the way where you get the most out of his qualities. He has another level and that is times where he can be a little simpler. If he is, he can go big.”

“Sometimes I go home and rewatch the games, even myself. Even if I had a good game against Houston, I’ll turn to my wife and say, ‘Hey, I can do a lot better. I can take it to the next level.’”

Playing mostly in the center of the midfield for Sporting, Rodriguez has gained four assists in seven starts and nine total appearances. Four is more assists than he has garnered since 2019.

“I’ve played on the wing most of my career. Now, I’m happy to see a coach that can put me in a position where I can excel,” Rodriguez said. “Now I feel free; I get butterflies before a game now, so the feelings and passion are really back and I’m really happy to be here.”

The butterflies are floating, and they may bring Rodriguez to Ali-type heights. Yet, the grind is ever-present. Vermes spoke of the grind of potential, that a player must self-reflect and absorb information to reach that potential.

“I feel like I had a run of a few good games after the [thigh] injury; that I’m playing well,” stated Rodriguez. “But now I need to take initiative and help the team in any way possible and take it to the next level and help the team even more.”

And his rewatching matches helps that reflection and absorption.

Lifting others

The effort. The stepping up. The journey. The grinding. The reflection and absorption. All are reasons to emulate who Memo Rodriguez is. But Rodriguez is not just focused on his potential:

“I try to lead by example on the pitch. I try to [influence] guys by feeding of me and my energy. In games and training sessions I pull a guy to the side and say, ‘Hey, what can I do better?’ and ‘This is how I think you could help.’ to have that communication and motivation. ’Keep pushing. I’m right behind you, if you are having a bad game just keep working hard and put in effort and that will go a long way.’”

Rodriguez spoke of how he, despite his 5’8” frame, is aggressive in battle no matter who he sees in front of him. Sporting, currently 13th in the West, has a battle in front of them. Whether Rodriguez and the club soar or not, they will not lack in fight.

“At the end of the day, I just want to win and fight for the badge on my shirt and for the club and my teammates and do the best I can to help the team out and win.”

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