He’s played the full 90 minutes in the Dynamo’s past 12 MLS matches, but everyone’s been seeing a little less of Raúl Rodríguez lately.
Caps, umbrellas, sunscreen, covering up or not going out during the day: people cope with the Texas summer heat in different ways. For the Spanish defender, who joined this year, the solution was to take a razor to his head—resulting in a buzzcut that makes him look like an army recruit or a Bald Is Beautiful participant.
Rodriguez said goodbye to his hair in a bid to keep cool on the field. “It’s comfortable and it’s an attempt to have a lower body temperature,” he told HoustonDynamo.com. “The humidity and the hot weather, it’s been hard, I just try do to the proper things about hydration and eat proper foods.”
The former Espanyol player will feel happy enough with the forecast for San Jose on Friday night: a pleasant-looking high of 74 and low of 59 degrees. The Dynamo are making their first trip to the San Jose Earthquakes’ new Avaya Stadium for a Western Conference MLS clash (10 p.m. CT, UniMás).
While the arena is new, there will be a very familiar face in the technical area: the Earthquakes are managed by ex-Dynamo head coach Dominic Kinnear. And it could be a heated encounter given the importance of the match. San Jose are seventh, one place outside the playoff places and four points ahead of the Dynamo.
A road win for Owen Coyle’s men would be a significant boost to Houston’s postseason push, especially if it’s achieved without Gold Cup absentees Boniek García and Luis Garrido (Honduras) and Giles Barnes and Jermaine Taylor (Jamaica).
“It’s a tough game as always but it’s a game that… we feel we can go and win,” Coyle told HoustonDynamo.com. “San Jose are a good side, Dominic I know very well and have got a lot of time for and obviously everyone at the Dynamo knows and loves as well, but we’re looking forward to the game.”
The Californians ran out 1-0 winners at BBVA Compass Stadium on May 5, though the Dynamo missed a penalty and enjoyed plenty of possession. “We were disappointed with the goal we lost because I don’t think we were unduly troubled in terms of the goalkeeper making saves or them having chances,” said Coyle.
The Earthquakes will be without former Dynamo Chris Wondolowski, who is with the U.S. Gold Cup team, and they lost their previous match 1-0 to the Portland Timbers. But they underlined their potential with victories over the Los Angeles Galaxy and Seattle Sounders in June. In the winter they signed striker Mark Sherrod, whose Dynamo career began promisingly last year until he suffered a season-ending knee injury in May. The 24-year-old started against Portland.
Especially given the absences and his goalscoring substitute appearance against the Chicago Fire last Friday, Brazilian midfielder Alex is in contention to make his first MLS start for Houston since the trade in April that sent forward Jason Johnson to Illinois.
“We knew Alex Lima’s ability; we had to build up his fitness,” Coyle said. “There’s no doubt he’s one of the ones that’s pushing his case forward to start in San Jose because of his ability and the impact he’s making now… he’s a very soccer-intelligent player, understanding what’s asked of him in terms of different positions, and the great thing is he has fantastic technical ability.
“All in all I certainly think it’s coming together for Alex Lima but he has to continue to progress, that’s always the key. He has to continue to move forward.”
Alex’s 56th-minute goal against his previous team looked set to hand the Dynamo all three points, but the Fire hit back and equalized with 18 minutes remaining, taking advantage of a momentary defensive lapse.
“We can do definitely better in terms of concentration,” said Rodríguez, who started the year at center back but has lately moved out to the right side of the defense.
Rather than focus on isolated incidents, the Barcelona-born 28-year-old believes that improvement will come from a collective effort that addresses how the team handles various phases of play.
“I think that it’s a little bit dangerous to analyze 90 minutes of the game just from one second, I don’t think it’s fair,” he said. “I think that for us as professionals we have to analyze every thing, every detail and say, ‘OK, after minute 60 we started to press less, started to keep the ball less, started to give them chances and even if we hadn’t made a mistake against Chicago I think that we made a bad last 30 minutes’.
“What I’m trying to say is that you have to analyze all the game, not just one player, not just one mistake. At the end of the day we attack as a team and defend as a team, it’s not just four players, three players, one player making one decision.”
Despite the weather, Rodríguez is relishing life in Houston and in MLS. “I’m at home here, with my wife and comfortable in my place, very comfortable here with teammates and other people at the club. When you feel comfortable in your job you feel comfortable in the city and now I’m trying to know the city better,” he said. “But we can talk about it after the summer!”
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.