THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 29, 2011
Rodrigues gaining international experience
Adriana Rodrigues is playing for the Portugal national team
Adriana Rodrigues is playing for the Portugal national team
Most first-year members of the JU women’s soccer team experience their first pressure-backed games once Atlantic Sun competition begins. Playing in matches that determine seeding or even a spot in the conference tournament can pump up the anxiety level and curtail a young player’s effectiveness.

But Dolphins midfielder Adriana Rodrigues already is familiar with matches that contain playoff-type intensity. Rodrigues plays for the Portugal national team that is in the qualifying stage for the UEFA Women’s EURO 2013 tournament. The 19-year-old is the second youngest midfielder on the squad and just one of six players younger than 20 on the 28-player roster.

Rodrigues is also a key contributor on a JU unit that is off to a 5-4-1 start (1-0-1 in league play). She also continues to emerge as a valuable threat off the bench for her national team. Rodrigues logged 24 minutes in Portugal’s 8-0 victory over host Armenia in the opening Group 7 qualifying match last week.

“It’s been such an honor to be able to play at the international level,” Rodrigues said.

Rodrigues said playing for a national team and a chance to compete at the highest level of women’s soccer would be a career highlight in its own right. Yet Rodrigues had an extra incentive to make Portgual’s squad: the opportunity to be teammates with her older sister.

Andrea Rodrigues is a junior at UCF and one of Portugal’s top scorers. The elder Rodrigues totaled two goals and two assists against Armenia. Though the sisters live about three hours from each other during the school year, playing for Portugal will allow them to travel all over the world, including the next qualifying group-stage match on Oct. 22 against the Czech Republic in Pisek.

“It’s been a blessing and I never imagined it happening,” Adriana Rodrigues said. “We’ve been practicing together since I was three years old, but we’ve only been on the same team in high school.

“She’s more of an attacking forward and I’m more likely to play in the midfield and pass it to her. It’s been a great source of pride for our family, especially for our dad, who has coached us since we were little.”

JU coach Brian Copham said international experience has made Rodrigues a better collegiate player. Rodrigues transferred to the Dolphins from Florida and has one goal and one assist in nine games (three starts) this season.

“We are proud of Adriana for getting called into her national team,” Copham said. “It’s a great honor and we are excited that her work has paid off. We look forward to seeing her play with them in the future.”

The road to Portuguese national team started when Rodrigues tried out as a 15-year-old for the U-17 Brazilian national team that participated in the South American Championship. She then tried out—and made—the U-19 Portugal team. After turning 19, Rodrigues, and her sister, were called up to the full national team.

A deep field of national teams comprised of veteran players and disciplined systems have helped Rodrigues handle the challenges of playing Division I soccer. Playing under stricter FIFA rules has also helped Rodrigues’ JU career.

“Some of the teams, like England, are more experienced, but it depends on the teams we face,” Rodrigues said. “I’ve had to incorporate everything I’ve learned. The players tend to be faster and more physical.”

Traveling to different cities will also be a benefit to Rodrigues’ non-soccer career goals. The St. Petersburg, Fla. native is majoring in broadcasting and aspires to be a reporter.

“I can read and write Portuguese and Spanish, so I’m hoping to do some intentional correspondence,” she said.

Rodrigues and the Dolphins will next be in action on Friday when JU hosts Kennesaw State. Kickoff at the Ashley Sports Complex is scheduled for 7 p.m.

- By Brian Bohl