Whether he was motivated or well rested, Minnesota United striker Angelo Rodriguez did everything but score in his 45-minute return to action Sunday in the team’s 1-1 draw with LAFC at Allianz Field.
Rodriguez hadn’t played 29 minutes in his previous six games, including the past three in which he hadn’t made the lineup as either starter or substitute. Coach Adrian Heath instead turned to speedy forwards Mason Toye and Abu Danladi.
Rodriguez, 30, hasn’t started a game since Aug. 17, when he played 27 minutes in a home game against Orlando City and came up clutching his hamstring.
On Sunday, Rodriguez came on after halftime for Toye and gave United the kind of possession player and scoring threat it signed last season as one of three designated players.
“Well, it’s my style,” he said.
He was stopped by LAFC goalkeeper Pablo Sisniega from short range two minutes after entering the game and chipped a shot just over the crossbar 10 minutes later. He just missed the winner in the 83rd minute when Sisniega stopped him not once, but twice in succession.
Rodriguez also set up Darwin Quintero with a crossing pass for a quality chance that the keeper stopped, too, in a second half when United controlled much more of the play than it did before halftime.
“He certainly gave us some life up there,” Heath said after the game. “He gave us a starting point. It’s an old saying in football: If you can’t get a hold of the ball in the opposing team’s half, invariably it comes straight back and that was what was happening in the first half.’’
Heath credited Rodriguez’s “physical presence” and veteran understanding “where to stand” that changed a game in which his team played forward much more after halftime.
“He gave us experience up there,” Heath said. “That was one thing Mason showed; he’s 20 years of age. He’s learning the game and he got bullied a bit by their two center backs. … That’s something we’ll work on with Mason. He’s big enough. He’s strong enough to do that. It’s still early days for him for that little part of his game.
“Angelo gave us an outlet [Sunday]. I’m sure if you ask their two center backs, they realized they’d been in the game in the second half.”
Heath said he had a “chat” with Rodriguez last week about his situation and praised him after the game Sunday for his dedicated training all week.
“Nothing is given,” Rodriguez said in Spanish through an interpreter. “Every player wants to play, and sometimes this is football. These things happen, and you face it in the best possible way. You stay strong, train and on this occasion I had the opportunity to play.”
LAFC coach Bob Bradley called Rodriguez’s hold-up play troublesome.
“Rodriguez is such a different player to come in,” Bradley said. “We were too anxious sometimes to win the ball off him, which is what he wants because he’s very good at using his body.”
Rodriguez admitted that “anxiety got the best of me” when he rushed one scoring opportunity after he had played so little in so long.
“We must stay calm,” he said. “We are getting our rhythm and we all know there is healthy competition within the team and one must win their spot to play. … I’m staying calm. After so much time, I had the chance to play 45 minutes and I have to keep going and keep working hard in training and we’ll see what happens.”
Problem turf ‘has been tough’
Workers removed Allianz Field’s grass surface Monday and will re-sod the field this week to resolve drainage and rooting issues that have emerged in some areas for much of the stadium’s inaugural season. St. Thomas and St. John’s are scheduled to play an Oct. 19 football game there and MLS playoffs begin that weekend with United poised to earn a first-round home game.
“We can say it now that the field is coming up, it has been tough,” coach Adrian Heath said. “It’s something that we’ve not wanted to make too much of an issue about. It’s not ideal, but it hasn’t stopped us from winning games.”
Issues surfaced early and then late in the regular season.
“There was a time during the middle of the season when it was settled and quite firm,” United defender Michael Boxall said. “And then I’m not too sure what happened. But it’s not an excuse. Whatever surface we’ve got, we have to get out there and play. I’m still happy it’s here and not TCF [Bank Stadium].”
Heath was named coach and Boxall a defender on the MLS Team of the Week and Hassani Dotson made the team’s bench for United’s victory and a draw last week.