Growing up, Esteban Rodriguez was an active kid. He liked to skateboard and run around with friends as most kids do in sunny Southern California.
But his dad had other plans for his son, who friends and teammates call â€œStevie,â€ and signed him up for soccer.
â€œI was in soccer just for fun,â€ the Palmdale, Calif.-native said. â€œWhen I was little I was into skating, and my dad signed me up for soccer. I wasnâ€™t very good, but when I scored my first goal it motivated me to keep going and get better and better every day.â€
Just a short couple of years after his dad signed him up, the slight midfielder found himself in love with the beautiful game.
Fast forward to 2009, when Rodriguez was playing for LAFC in the U.S. Soccer Development Academy. Having been exposed to better training and more competitive games within the program, he was beginning to show his potential.
â€œ[The Development Academy] was really different. It was tough. There were a lot of good players and all the games were really hard. It made me more alert, more focused,â€ he said.
U.S. Soccer scouts had been keeping a keen eye on Rodriguez, and he was chosen to play in a Select Team game at the 2009 Academy Winter Showcase. Select Teams are chosen by U.S. Soccer Technical Advisors and the national scouting network, and are made up of the best players in the Academy program.
In that game, Rodriguez shone.
Weeks later, he moved across the country to Bradenton, Fla., after accepting his call to the U.S. Soccer Under-17 Residency Program.
A year and a half after beginning his journey with the U-17 MNT, Rodriguez now finds himself in Montego Bay, Jamaica. Rodriguez scored in the 50th minute to help the USA toÂ a 3-1 victory against Cuba in their first game of the tournament and the team is now looking forward to their next match against Panama. With four teams from this event qualifying for the FIFA U-17 World Cup, he understands both the responsibility and sense of pride that comes with wearing the U.S. uniform.
â€œIt feels good,â€ Rodriguez said. â€œIâ€™m proud to represent my country. I get nervous about representing a lot of people but itâ€™s great. Itâ€™s a dream come true. I wasnâ€™t even thinking Iâ€™d have a chance to make this team in the first place. Hard work pays off and Iâ€™m so glad to be here.â€
This year could be an important one in Rodriguezâ€™s career if he and his teammates accomplish what they out to do: earn a place at the World Cup. If the past is any indication of whatâ€™s to come, the future is bright for Rodriquez and his teammates.