Mason Toye has 4 inches on Angelo Rodriguez, but the 19-year-old Minnesota United player still plans to look up to the veteran striker.
Despite those extra inches, the rookie Toye only has about 4 pounds on Rodriguez, the team’s new designated player.
“You can just tell he’s a grown man. He’s a big guy. Looks like he’s a really solid-build guy,” Toye said. “I’m really excited to work with him and try to pick his brain a little bit as much as I can and just watch what he does and try to take little things from his game and implement them into mine.”
Toye’s idea to learn from the 29-year-old Colombian champion is a subtler benefit of signing designated players, highly talented individuals who can be paid above an MLS team’s salary cap. It’s something United has already gained from with first designated player Darwin Quintero, who has nine goals and six assists in 16 games since joining the Loons in March.
“Once you get to the age that they are, Darwin is 30, [Rodriguez is] 29, they’ve been there, seen it and done it. They know what’s expected of them, and they know what’s expected of the group,” coach Adrian Heath said. “I know from my own time in football, a lot of the best lessons I ever learned were from experienced pros who quietly pull you to one side and say, ‘That’s not acceptable. That’s not good enough.’ And I expect the same of them.”
Rodriguez practiced with the Loons for the first time Wednesday. He won’t play Saturday in Vancouver but should play Aug. 4 against Seattle at TCF Bank Stadium.
Heath said Rodriguez turned down offers to play in Mexico as well as with premier Colombian club Atletico Nacional to come to Minnesota, as playing abroad has been a goal of his.
Rodriguez is eager to contribute his “granito de arena” — which literally translates to little grain of sand — to the team and said he values collaborating with his teammates. But he won’t be the only teammate passing on knowledge.
“I spoke to Darwin a lot. He told me all about the organization, the people here. And it was a decision that I came to with my family, but what he told me definitely motivated me to come here more,” Rodriguez said in Spanish through a translator of his fellow Colombian. “When you find people who are going to help you make a transition like this, it’s always really important. And this team is a great group of guys who have welcomed me. So it’s going to be the job of everyone to help me in that transition. And the hope is just that we’re able to win a title here together.”
Heath said Rodriguez came to the Loons even stronger and with a better physique than the coach had anticipated. He has called Rodriguez a “throwback center forward,” someone who is very good with his back to the goal and can maintain his position on the ball.
Toye, who has played in 14 games this year but has only one assist, said that’s the exact area in which he needs improvement. And while Quintero is also an excellent role model, Rodriguez is a little more realistic than the 5-foot-5 playmaker.
“Darwin is somebody you try to learn from, but some things that he does, it’s just, like, really hard to emulate. It’s just God-given ability,” Toye said. “Now bringing in a DP striker who is a similar type of player to me — obviously, a bit bigger — but there’s more things that I can take and put into my game from him.
“I can definitely watch the new DP and try to see what he does to use his body and his different movements and heading, all that type of stuff,” Toye said. “But obviously, I need to get into the gym a bit more so I can get a bit bigger like him.”