FRISCO, Texas – Ever since Carlos Rodríguez was old enough to walk, he knew he was destined to play soccer. While most five-year-old children were playing with toys and getting into trouble, Rodríguez was learning to juggle and working towards his goal of one day playing for his national team.
“When I was growing up, I found my love for soccer very quickly,” the FC Dallas defender told MLSsoccer.com on Wednesday following FCD’s scrimmage with the US Under-23 national team. “Ever since I was little, I was always kicking the ball, and I just loved playing the sport.
"I was five when I started playing. At seven, I played for my national feeder team. It was just a process where I played with them as I grew. “
In 2007, when he was just 17, Rodríguez began his club career with Chepo FC and developed into one of the best fullbacks in the Panamanian top flight. With his skills sharpened and a newfound confidence, Rodríguez signed with Tauro FC – one of Panama’s best squads – last season.
The opportunity with Tauro also allowed Rodríguez to make his dream a reality as he appeared in two friendlies for the Panamanian national team in 2011, earning caps against Paraguay and Costa Rica.
“It was really special when I learned I would be playing on the national team,” he said. “All the players in Panama have goals to play on that team one day. When I was selected, it was like a dream come true.”
Having already done everything he set out to do in his home country, the 21-year-old phenom decided a change of scenery was in store and jumped at the chance to sign with FC Dallas when head coach Schellas Hyndman came calling this offseason.
Rodríguez originally impressed Hyndman when he helped lead Tauro to a tie and a 5-3 victory over FC Dallas in CONCACAF Champions League group-stage play.
“I’ve worked really hard to get the opportunity to come in here and play,” he said. “When I played against FC Dallas, coach Hyndman got a chance to see what I could do, and I guess he liked me enough to bring me over here.”
Rodríguez has the added comfort of joining FCD along with his compatriot and fellow Panama international Blas Pérez. In Frisco, he’ll have a soft landing with several other Spanish-speakers on the team as well. But the learning curve has still been steep, he says.
“I’ve learned a lot since I came to Dallas,” Rodríguez said. “The most important thing is that soccer is very fast. It’s one-touch, two-touch. Soccer here is just fast. Another thing I’m getting the chance to do is learn English. It’s a part of the sport here, and I’m grateful for the opportunity.”
Rodríguez will compete for a spot on a back line headlined by veterans like Ugo Ihemelu and Jair Benítez, but with plenty of opportunities for younger players such as Matt Hedges and Hernán Pertúz.
It’s expected the young Panamanian will bring depth and serve as a viable backup this season to regular starter Benítez, but ultimately could earn a starting spot at left back depending on how quickly he picks up the scheme. Hyndman has even suggested he could see a scenario where he slots Rodríguez in at left back and bumps Benítez up to left midfield.
“The coaches will tell me when and where I will play this season,” said Rodríguez. “I just want to help the team. I always give my all to the team. I’ll do whatever the coaches tell me. I’m fast, and I’ll use my speed to help this team win.”