Minnesota United forward Angelo Rodriguez turned away interested clubs from South America to China over the winter and returned north for a second season because he insists soccer fans in Minnesota and across Major League Soccer haven’t seen anything yet.
After an 11-game prelude last season and Saturday’s season-opening victory at Vancouver, everybody is still waiting.
Rodriguez scored four goals in those 11 games after he transferred from his Colombia championship club and joined Darwin Quintero as the United’s first two designated players. Slowed in a new country and new culture by a lingering calf injury last season and a niggling groin injury this preseason, he claims he hasn’t yet been the player he is or will be.
That is, a player who gets goals.
“I wanted to stay in Minnesota, I wanted to honor my contract, I wanted to do things the right way,” he said through an interpreter. “This league is growing rapidly and I believe people didn’t get to see a whole lot of me last season and the type of player that I am because I arrived midway through the season. But now from the beginning, I want to support the team as best I can.”
That groin injury sidelined him in Florida training last month and limited him to the final 11 minutes of Saturday’s season opener.
His fitness is better this week. When he is deemed fully fit, he’ll present yet another option – a well-paid one, $657,000 total-compensation salary in 2018 – to mull for coach Adrian Heath, who also can play Romario Ibarra, Abu Danladi and Mason Toye at that striker spot.
What happens then, possibly as early as Saturday’s game at San Jose?
“It’s a decision we’ve probably not had in the past,’’ Heath said. “We had that decision coming at a few more positions. It’s up to the people. What is it, possession is nine-tenths of the law? Make sure you keep the shirt. Drop your performances and somebody else gets an opportunity and you’ll have to wait. It’s up to them as individuals now.”
United also invested in Ibarra, paying him $546,000 in 2018 to leave his Ecuadorian team last July. He is young (24), 5-9, fast and a player whom Heath encourages to run from the ball so star Darwin Quintero can create in pockets he prefers.
Rodriguez is different.
“Angelo’s strength is his strength,” Heath said. “He’s big. He’s strong. He posts up. He backs in.”
At 5-11 and his body fully matured at age 29, Rodriguez acknowledges strength is a strength, but maybe not his foremost one.
“My biggest strength is my ability to score goals,” Rodriguez said. “I’ve also been characterized by size and strength, my ability to guide the ball with my back, to see the ball and the space it’s in – all which can be difficult for other forwards.”
Heath calls Rodriguez’s mobility underestimated, but describes him and Ibarra as “two different looks” depending which one plays up front.
“Each player brings a different set of skills, some only one can give us,” Quintero said through an interpreter. “Others we get from the other player. It’s about understanding what we can do with one and what we can do with the other, about seeing the possibilities. It’s good for the team because we have two great players who are completely different.”
United traded fan favorite Christian Ramirez last summer to make room for Rodriguez’s specific gifts, which Rodriguez himself sees simplistically.
“Every team I’ve played on, I’ve been able to score consistently, score a lot of goals,” Rodriguez said. “In my last team, we were champions and I was the lead scorer and I want to showcase that here.”