Back as a starter the last three games and back last Saturday to a full 90 minutes, Minnesota United striker Angelo Rodriguez also is back approaching top form.
He played a part in the first goal scored at Allianz Field — teammate Ozzie Alonso’s expertly timed volley in the 13th minute. Then he scored United’s second goal in a rollicking 3-3 tie with New York City FC when his running header finished a picture-perfect, three-way passing play from the right wing.
The week before, he controlled a ball played into him and found fellow forward Abu Danladi open with an efficient pass. With a sweep of his leg Danladi scored the first goal in a 2-1 victory at the New York Red Bulls.
In Saturday’s two goals, he used his height and positioning. In New York, he used his wide body and strength to hold off the opposition and create a play.
“This is what we brought him for, absolutely,” United veteran midfielder Ethan Finlay said this week heading into Friday’s game at Toronto. “In the last two games, we’ve seen he can occupy not only one defender, but two. That’s a game-changer.”
Last season, the Loons traded fan favorite Christian Ramirez and made room to sign Rodriguez as a designated player because of his size, strength and ability to possess the ball. Earning a base salary of $575,000 with total compensation of $657,187 he scored four goals in 11 games in a season slowed by a lingering calf injury and his adjustment to a new country and culture.
This year, a nagging groin injury sidelined him early in preseason play and limited him to a substitute’s role for the first three regular-season games. He scored a goal after coming on in the second half during a 3-2 loss at the L.A. Galaxy and returned as a starter the next game in a loss at New England.
“In preseason I was doing well; there are injuries that come with preseason,” Rodriguez said through an interpreter. “This is a long season. I think now I am doing well, staying calm. Obviously, I want to continue making a difference.”
He did so on United’s first goal Saturday when, with his back toward the goal, he headed Romain Metanire’s crossing pass to the far post, keeping in play a sequence that Alonso finished.
After New York scored twice in two minutes, Rodriguez tied the score in the 20th minute after Jan Gregus’ pass from midfield sent Finlay free down the right sideline. Rodriguez’s lunging header on a full run turned Finlay’s crossing pass into a tying goal.
“To get Angelo off was great,” Finlay said. “To get him a goal at home and have his confidence continue to grow is important.”
Paid as he is to score goals, Rodriguez considers the confidence factor a two-way thing with his teammates.
“Obviously, you’ll gain confidence from scoring and the team also gains confidence when their No. 9 [position, striker] scores goals,” Rodriguez said.
Finlay and Metanire created chances with their runs in the first half Saturday. When NYCFC changed strategy at halftime, United countered by playing more through Rodriguez.
“I know how to protect the ball, and it’s hard for the opponent to take it away from me,” Rodriguez said.
Doing so creates room for star Darwin Quintero and others behind Rodriguez.
“If we can find these spaces, we can cause teams problems,” Finlay said.
“If we continue to develop different threats in different parts of the field, we’re going to be really tough to play against. Angelo has gotten himself fit now and he’s healthy. That’s going to be crucial for our team.”
Rodriguez often uses a term in Spanish — “paso a paso,” or step by step — when asked about returning to full fitness and showing United supporters the player and scorer he is when completely healthy.
“I would like to be in form now, but I am very close to getting there,” he said.
“The last three games, I have played well and I’ve felt comfortable out on the field.
“The coach and team are now understanding my style of play. Soon everyone will want to pass the ball to me. That’s something that gives you confidence.
“I had the chance to pass the ball to Abu [in New York], but in other occasions I will turn around and shoot at the goal.”