In an attempt to constantly seek and share many inspirational stories with our players, coaches and parents this time we had the pleasure to interview a former Puerto Rico national team soccer player, Joel Rodriguez. We’ve asked Joel 10 questions and we would like to share his answers with you. Great inspirational stories are are made by those who never give up on themselves and their dreams regardless of their struggles. This story is one of them.
WGP: 1. Briefly Tell Us A Bit About Yourself And How You Started Playing For The Puerto Rico Men’s Soccer National Team?
Joel: Growing up soccer was a passion in my family. My father grew up playing and then went off to play at Eastern Connecticut University. I started playing at 4 years old in Wallingford Youth Soccer League (WYSL) in Connecticut. By 11 years old I began playing for Oakwood Soccer Club out of Glastonbury, CT.
At the age of 16 I was in contact with the National team of Puerto Rico. Since my mother was born there and both grandparents are from the Island, I was allowed to try out for the team. So at the age of 16 I booked a flight and headed down to Puerto Rico to try-out for the U-20 national team. It was a very intimidating process. Here in the US as kids we are so spoiled with great quality fields and top of the line equipment. It was a soccer culture shock at first but I quickly adjusted. I was the youngest player there trying out. At first I was overlooked. I was not getting a lot of playing time against the professional teams they were scrimmaging. Staying quite, confident and humble I knew my time would come to prove myself. With 20 minutes left to the last game the coach put me in as right back. I got the assist to win 1-0. I’ve earned my spot.
As the months drew on I ended up earning a starting spot on the U-20 Puerto Rican National Team. (I was the youngest player on the team.) The national team flew to Cayman Islands where we played qualifiers for the U-20 World Cup. I will never forget starting my first game against a very tough and talented Jamaican National team. Right before the game started I remember the national anthem playing, I was filled with nerves but all I could think about was my family and my amazing support system.
I looked over to my dad and he had been holding the flag and was already chanting. We ended up loosing 1-0 but put on a great performance. I then stared against Cayman Islands where we won 3-2, and last performance against Bermuda where we ended up loosing 3-2. We did not make on to the next round but we representd the Island with a lot of pride and a bright future for the national team.
I then came into my senior year of high school with an ultimate high. I led Sheehan High School in Wallingford, CT with 23 goals and 7 assists. Holding Sheehan’s goal scoring record till this day.
Schools began to contact me and were very interested. And just like that the high I was on came to a crash out in California in a showcase tournament. I had torn my LCL. It was a dramatic experience for me. It felt as if everything I had been working for came to a crash. Schools started to back off knowing I had a long 6 month recovery. The University of New Haven however did not give up on me. I ended up earning a scholarship and played my four years at UNH. The recovery process was long and painful but I stayed committed and came in starting all four years at UNH.
At UNH I was called to up to play for the U-23 Puerto Rican Olympic qualifying team. I had spent three months in camp along side some of Puerto Rico’s best athletes. I was then called up one more time during my Junior year at UNH to play for the Men’s National team. However, the athletic director at UNH did not allow me to leave to represent my island.
I was pissed to say the least. But I knew my time would come again. At the end of my junior they called me up again but now to play against the World Cup champions, Spain. Two weeks before leaving to Puerto Rico I tore my MCL.
My senior year ended at UNH with frustration. I wanted to continue on playing but mentally I was not all there. After graduation I had 8 months of playing indoors and working out on my own. Not knowing if I would have an opportunity playing at a high level again, I got a phone call. This time it was to play for Bayamon FC (which is now owned by Carmel Anthony and called PRFC). Here I grew so much as a player and learned a lot about myself.
I was playing with top players from all over the world. Here I played for four months in tournaments and games. Not earning much playing time but making every minute I played like it was my last. The season ended and we all went our separate ways. And one last phone call was made in August. I received a letter to asking to play for the Men’s national team in World Cup Qualifiers.
My proudest moment was earning a starting spot as right back for the Men’s national team. I played against Curacao and Grenada and came out with a pulled hamstring against Grenada. We ended the qualifiers with 2 ties and a loss. Now, I continue my career as coach and passing everything I’ve learned to the next generation.
WGP: 2. Do You Enjoy Playing Your Sport Now As You Did When You Were Younger?Joel: I love this sport. Soccer is more than a sport. It is a passion. I continue to play when I can indoor/outdoor with UNH Alumni, coaches and friends.
WGP: 3. While Playing Were You Striving To Succeed Or To Avoid Failure?
Joel: Throughout my career I have always strived to succeed and top my last personal record/success. There will always be adversity from injuries and so on. It is up to the individual on how he/she will bounce back. Maturity and the right mindset is crucial in a soccer player wanting to continue their career. You can not be afraid to fail.
WGP: 4. Do You Have Any Specific Plans, Strategies Or Rituals Before Playing The Game?Joel: I like to have a good meal before game day. I have my head phones on and I stay locked into what I need to do on the field. I try to imagine myself playing and doing my role on the field.
WGP: 5. What Does Competition Means To You?
Joel: Competition – Oh, how I love competition. Growing up I was always taught to be humble and confident. When it came to practice, games, and small games with friends, I would I always try to be the best. If I was better than the guy next to me, I knew that just made it one step closer to playing at the next level. Now when I coach, I try to teach my Sheehan High School guys to have passion and compete. Without passion and pride you can not compete.
WGP: 6. What Are The Most Valuables Lessons You’ve Learned From Soccer?Joel: This game has taught me so many life lessons. From maturity, discipline, passion and pride. The most important however is having the right mentality.
Futbol is a game that is played with your mind, your feet are just the tools.
– Andrea Pirlo
WGP: 7. How Important Is The Recovery Process After A Game?
Joel: To stay healthy and keep wanting to playing at the next level recovery is very important. Both, before and after games. It is important to take care of injuries and not force yourself back into playing fresh off an injury. If you take a step back and realize as a young player to take care of your body, it will make you that much better than the next guy.
WGP: 8. What’s Your Most Memorable Highlight Of Your Playing Career?
Joel: Most memorable highlight would have to be starting for the Men’s National Team of Puerto Rico.
WGP: 9. What Motivates You And Keep You Going Especially Thru Hard Times?
Joel: What motivates me? Besides loving this sport that has taught me so much, it is my family and faith in God. My support system at home has been so great. My family has had to make sacrifices just for me to play this game. Whether it’s paying for club teams, cleats, overnight tournaments, I know my parents did this for me to succeed. I see all that they have done for me and I try to do the best I can to make them proud.
WGP: 10. What Advise Do You Have For Players Who Dream To Play In College Or At The Professional Level?
Joel: For young players that want to play at the next level, I would tell them if you really want it, you must always stay focused on your goals. With that comes maturity and sacrifice. How much more will you do than the guy next to you. You can’t expect to play at the next level having practice two times a week and playing a game during the weekend. It has to be an everyday thing 24/7. And when you are faced with adversity, how will you respond? Will you be the guy to pack it in when you are faced with a coach who does not play you? Will you be the one to shy away? Or will you be the one when given an opportunity to leave all on the field. Mentality is so important to help you stay focused on reaching your goals.