American Exports: U-17 WCup vet settling in at Tijuana

GUADALAJARA, Mexico – US youth international Stevie Rodriguez is the latest American to join the burgeoning US presence in Club Tijuana.

Rodriguez made the difficult decision to head south in late January, leaving the Chivas USA Academy for the Xolos, but says the move has gone smoothly so far and he is enjoying life and soccer.

“It’s good, I’m getting used to it,” Rodriguez recently told MLSsoccer.com. “Everyone is really nice to me, so that helps.”

The 18-year-old Los Angeles native, who featured for the US in last year’s U-17 World Cup, has already started five games for Club Tijuana’s Under-20 team since signing for the Mexican club, despite being available age-wise for the Under-17s.

In a game against Estudiantes Tecos’ U-20s earlier this month, he played in a deep-lying midfield role and bears some similarities to US international José Francisco Torres with his slick passing and vision.  

Rodriguez, who idolizes Lionel Messi, admits he is still adapting to playing soccer south of the border.

“Here, it’s more technical and playing with the ball,” he said. “I have to get used to it.”

Rodriguez has also been improving his Spanish, which he says “wasn’t that great,” but the youngster has plenty of others with whom he can speak English, with US players Joe Corona, Edgar Castillo, Greg Garza, Bryan de la Fuente and other Anglophones at the club.

To get Rodriguez down south, Club Tijuana’s recruitment tactics were innovative.

“After the World Cup, they contacted me [through] Facebook,” he explained. “I was playing in Chivas USA to stay fit, and so when the chance came, I just took it.”

Chivas USA were aggrieved at losing out on the talented midfielder, who they were hoping to eventually sign to a Homegrown contract.

“His family wanted him to be a pro right away,” Chivas USA general manager Jose Domene explained to MLSsoccer.com. “It’s a shame that we had to lose a player of his caliber.”

Rodriguez said that although it was difficult to leave his teammates, hometown and coaches, he felt he couldn’t turn down the opportunity in Tijuana when it came up.

Tom Marshall covers Americans playing in Latin America. He can be reached via tom.marshall.mex@gmail.com.