Memo Rodriguez knows he faces a tough road ahead to establish himself in the Dynamo first team. At least the club’s latest homegrown player is used to long journeys.
Four or five times a week his mother would drive him from El Campo to Houston Sports Park for training sessions and matches—a 140-mile round trip that took the best part of three hours.
The Wharton native would leave school around 3:30 p.m. and get back home as late as 9:30 or 10 p.m. Then he’d have to eat and do his homework, meaning he often did not get to sleep before midnight. Of course, he was up early for school the next day.
The demanding schedule was almost too much. “It was very tough because of the traffic,” said his mother, Velia, who was one of several family members on hand on Thursday for a media conference at BBVA Compass Stadium to announce his signing.
“There was one point that I was going to quit, at the U-16 level when I was with the Academy. Thankfully my mom was like ‘no you can’t quit, we’ve got so far so why quit?’” Rodriguez told HoustonDynamo.com. Last year he passed his driving test so he no longer has to rely on his mother for transport, but the story underlines the commitment made by Rodriguez and his family so that he could pursue his dream.
Heeding his mom’s advice paid off and he has become the sixth Dynamo Academy member to sign a professional contract with the first team. His words to her after putting pen to paper were those any weary traveler loves to hear: "Mom, we made it."
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Memo—first name Jose, but nicknamed after his middle name, Guillermo—is a 5-foot-8-inch midfielder who turns 19 later this month. He joined the Dynamo Academy in 2011.
Though El Campo is well known for the Ricebirds, its beloved high school gridiron team, the other kind of football was always Rodriguez’s passion. He opted to turn professional now rather than go to college and is aware that although he’s featured for the Under-23s and trained with the first-team for spells this year and last, he’ll need to spend more time learning from the likes of Luis Garrido and Ricardo Clark before he can hope to challenge them for a place in the lineup.
Dynamo youth development director James Clarkson cited the example of Tyler Deric, who became the club’s first-ever homegrown player in 2009, as proof that patience is required as well as talent. “It’s taken him five years to establish himself and now he’s the first-choice goalkeeper,” he said.
New Dynamo vice-president and general manager Matt Jordan said that the club will explore ways to help boost player development and that “the youth academy is an important element” for the Dynamo. One aim as the club seeks to strengthen the pipeline is to find ways of bridging the gap between the youth and professional levels, given the importance of competitive soccer that can be hard to come by when youngsters join experienced rosters.
In Clarkson’s view, Rodriguez is a tenacious midfielder with a good range of passing and an eye for goal who likes to dictate play from a deep position. Sounds not unlike Clark? There’s no doubt Rodriguez would be thrilled to emulate the veteran’s playing style. “I think he’s a leader on the team, he brings the energy to the team, he likes to do what I like to do, get the ball off the back four and distribute the ball and bring players into the game,” he said.
He has spent time working on his strength in the gym alongside the likes of Andrew Driver, Corey Ashe and Will Bruin, and recalls getting advice on how to improve the physical aspect of his game from Garrido and Giles Barnes during training.
“There was one time that I was getting [pushed off the ball] and everybody was yelling at me that I’m losing the ball too much. And during the break Giles was like, ‘OK, put your hands up when you receive the ball, stay strong on the ball and play simple,’” he said.
It’s an approach he’ll be taking into the 2015 season as a professional soccer player. That is a massive achievement in itself, but Rodriguez is mature enough to know that it’s still only one leg of the journey.
Tom Dart is a contributing writer to HoustonDynamo.com and HoustonDashSoccer.com. Former editor and reporter for The Times of London and reporter for SI.com, Dart currently freelances for The Guardian.