Third in a series of previews for the Women's World Cup.
Coming off a stellar performance in helping the U.S. Olympic women's soccer team win the goal medal in 2008, Amy Rodriguez suddenly saw her confidence and goal-scoring ability wane as she began her professional career.
Selected No. 1 overall in the Women's Professional Soccer draft in 2009 by the Boston Breakers, Rodriguez, by her own admission, had a miserable debut season. She was traded shortly after the season to the Independence.
Coming to Philadelphia simply changed her career. And now Rodriguez is a vital performer for the U.S. team, which begins play in the World Cup on June 28 against North Korea in Germany.
"In Philadelphia I got my confidence back, and I got the enjoyment of the game back," Rodriguez said.
She also got her goal-scoring touch back.
After tallying just one goal in 17 games while making 11 starts as a rookie in Boston, Rodriguez was third in WPS last season with 12 goals while also adding six assists for the Independence. She was the biggest reason the Independence advanced to the championship game before losing, 4-0, to Gold Pride of Northern California, a franchise which has since disbanded.
"When I was in Boston, I wasn't playing [much], and when I was I wasn't playing well, and I wasn't confident," she said. "When I went to Philly I grew so much, and it showed on the field, and I was so happy to have a great year."
The 24-year-old Rodriguez plays different roles for her two teams. With the Independence, coach Paul Riley insists that Rodriguez play close to the goal, more as a target player. With the U.S. team, where prolific scorer Abby Wambach is the target, Rodriguez plays more like a withdrawn forward.
"Her game changed in Philadelphia with Paul Riley and the time she spent in the box," U.S. coach Pia Sundhage said. "She took that confidence to this team and is improving her play tremendously."
Sundhage sees Rodriguez still as a work in progress.
"She is a much better player today than in 2008, but she still has to work on things, especially off the ball," Sundhage said.
Rodriguez has already earned 65 caps with the national team and has scored 17 goals. This is a deep U.S. team, but two-time defending champion Germany remains the favorite.
Rodriguez has been a starter, but in the last U.S. friendly against Mexico, she was replaced in the 65th minute by Lauren Cheney, who scored the lone goal in the 1-0 victory. It's likely that Sundhage will be looking for different scoring combinations in the World Cup, although Rodriguez is expected to start.
"We have a great team, and all 21 players are able to produce," Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez said that she still gets asked about the 2008 Beijing Olympics frequently, but she's not complaining. At the Olympics she played in all six games, making five starts, and had a goal and two assists. She will always be linked to the game-winning goal by Delran product Carli Lloyd. Rodriguez had the assist on that goal as the United States scored a 1-0 overtime win over Brazil.
"People still mention it, but I have moved on from that," Rodriguez said about the assist. "It was a play I was so thankful to make, but I have never been able to play in a women's World Cup, and this is soccer-specific and something I am really looking forward to."