This is a feature in Issue 16 of Sounders Monthly. Copies are available for free at The NINETY, GuestLink Services locations, Soccer Celebration and Membership Central. You can also access it on the Sounders Mobile App.
On several of his scouting trips to Spain, Seattle Sounders Sporting Director & Vice President of Soccer Chris Henderson found himself routinely impressed by one person in particular. The player did not suit up for one of La Liga’s powerhouses, but rather was on the books of teams at the other end of the table, the ones regularly fighting to stave off relegation. Time and again, the player caught Henderson’s eye with a delicate touch, an elegant smoothness on the ball, constant movement off it, a strong work rate and an overall deep understanding of the game.
His name was Víctor Rodríguez.
“What intrigued me about him initially was he was playing for a lower team in La Liga and that’s really difficult to do: to be a player who stands out and plays well,” said Henderson. “Every game you’ve got to play a certain way when you’re playing Sevilla and Valencia and Real Madrid and Barcelona when most of the time you don’t have the ball.
“I thought, ‘Man, if you could take him out of that and put him on a team that keeps the ball and is a good team, he could really excel.’”
Henderson was so fascinated that he tracked Rodríguez over the course of a few years — at stops with Elche, Getafe and Sporting Gijón — before convincing the Spanish midfielder to sign with the Sounders in August 2017 with the use of Targeted Allocation Money. Rodríguez could have easily opted to stay in his native land, but what persuaded him to uproot himself was the potential to have a career opportunity that he, and anyone not playing for Real Madrid, Barcelona or Atletico Madrid, would never experience back home.
With the Sounders, he could compete for a championship.
Rodríguez, while with La Liga’s Getafe, talks to former Barcelona star Neymar | Reuters
“The brass sold me on a thrilling project, a team that is very competitive that can fight for the title,” said Rodríguez, whose profound desire to win in MLS is palpable. “That’s what really drove me to choose to come to Seattle.”
Since landing in the Emerald City last summer, the 29-year-old winger has shown flashes of the quality that impressed Henderson and likened to a former U.S. men’s national team star.
“He reminded me so much of an old teammate, Tab Ramos, in the way he moved, the way he played, his acceleration,” said Henderson.
“Hopefully this season we can get back to the final so we can grab the chance by its horns.” — Víctor Rodríguez
Rodríguez has not, however, been able to consistently demonstrate his abilities to the rest of MLS. In addition to going through an adaptation period on and off the field in 2017 that limited him to just seven starts in 11 matches, he has suffered injuries that have kept him off the field for large periods this year.
Rodríguez is now fully settled in Seattle with his family, and the Sounders are confident that the best is yet to come from their technical veteran.
“The more [Rodríguez] can consistently stay on the field, the better we’re all going to be because he’s the type of player who plays in combinations,” says Sounders General Manager & President of Soccer Garth Lagerwey. “The more minutes he gets with [Raúl] Ruidíaz, the more minutes he gets with Nicolás Lodeiro, the more minutes he gets with Brad Smith, and Cristian Roldan, etc. etc. that’s going to make the group better.”
Rodríguez against the Vancouver Whitecaps | Mike Fiechtner
The Spaniard fondly remembers walking out to the field at CenturyLink Field for his first game as a Sounders player and being surprised by the passionate support in the stands. He knows there is a real hunger for soccer in the city, and wants to give back to the fans by performing well so that he can win their admiration much in the same way that he did with Henderson.
If the Barcelona native can avoid picking up any more knocks, he should have no problem making a bigger impression on the club’s supporters. His sophisticated touch and calmness on the ball are easy on the eyes and his hardworking nature on the defensive side makes for an admirable trait. Few observers may currently know that Rodríguez is as strong a two-way player as he is. In a postseason match last year against the Houston Dynamo, for instance, he made a 40-yard sprint to make two successive tackles deep in Seattle’s half.
“[Rodríguez] reminded me so much of an old teammate, Tab Ramos, in the way he moved, the way he played.” — Sounders FC Sporting Director & VP of Soccer Chris Henderson
Those abilities were all developed during his formative years in Spain, where he played in Barcelona’s La Masia academy from ages 11 to 15. Rodríguez recalls that “magnificent” period of his life vividly, including how fun, but long, the days were.
“We went to school in the morning and then a taxi would come pick me and other kids up,” recalled Rodríguez. “I remember the taxi would pick up a lot of kids in the Sabadell area where I was from and then we would go train, and we’d practice until five or six in the evening. Afterwards, the taxi would take you back home and you’d have to do mandatory homework until 11 because Barcelona also required you to do schoolwork regarding the practices but in written form. You would then go to sleep, and wake up the next day to do it all over again.”
Rodríguez celebrates a goal at CenturyLink Field | USA Today Sports
Those early years molded Rodríguez into a player who could cut it in La Liga, one of the most technical and talented leagues in the world. He might not have ended up playing for Barcelona or any of Spain’s other juggernauts, but nonetheless, he carved out a respectable career that saw him make more than 100 league appearances before impressing Seattle’s front office and making the move stateside.
“The one thing off the ball was that I felt he could play both transition and possession,” said Henderson of Rodríguez. “Sometimes people are only one or the other. Sometimes they’re counterattacking or possession types. I think he adjusts to both and I just loved his reaction. If he lost the ball, he’s quick enough that his first response is, ‘How can I win it back?’”
Rodríguez shares a similar approach with regards to lifting a trophy with the Sounders. He was not yet a member of the club when it captured the 2016 MLS Cup and came agonizingly close last year before falling to Toronto FC in the championship match.
The painful feeling from suffering that defeat still remains, but so too do the Spaniard’s hopes of becoming a champion with the Sounders. Rodríguez might not have won his first career title yet, but he is eager to change that in the near future.
After all, that is why he chose Seattle in the first place.
“It leaves you with a thorn in your side and with a desire to want to win it the next year so you can flip the script,” said Rodríguez. “But in the end you always learn from bad moments and hopefully this season we can get back to the final so we can grab the chance by its horns and win it this year.”