Oh, baby, is Rodriguez glad to be back
BOCA RATON, Fla. -- Baby steps.
That's what forward Amy Rodriguez said she took last week when she played three minutes in her first action in more than a year with the U.S. Women's National Soccer Team.
"Baby steps" is an especially apt phrase for Rodriguez because her time off came as a result of having her first child, son Ryan, who now is 6 months old.
Saturday, Rodriguez got much more playing time -- 31 minutes off the bench -- and earned an assist in a 7-0 win against Russia at Florida Atlantic University Stadium.
"I feel good, tired," Rodriguez said a few minutes after Saturday's game. "It felt good to get a full 30 minutes on the field. I'm working on my stride and my touch.
"I almost [had a goal] on my first chance, but I got a little too close to the keeper."
Rodriguez, who turns 27 on Feb. 17, said she put on 30 pounds during her pregnancy.
"It's a lot of weight, especially with me never having been that big before," the 5-foot-4 Rodriguez said. "I felt big -- really big."
Rodriguez looks fit now, and U.S. coach Tom Sermanni said he has been impressed.
USA defender Stephanie Cox, who gave birth four months before Rodriguez, also is back with the team, and the two have helped each other through the process.
"She's getting there," Sermanni said of Rodriguez. "Both Amy and Stephanie have worked exceptionally hard after coming back from having children, which isn't easy. They've both done a really good job to get back and get up to a good level of fitness where they are part of the team again."
Because Cox gave birth first, she is, logically, ahead of Rodriguez in their comebacks. Cox started the Americans' first two matches of this season, Jan. 31 against Canada and again Saturday.
Rodriguez, a two-time Olympic gold medalist who also helped the U.S. finish second in the 2011 World Cup, said she was "stoked" to get in against Canada.
"I had a big smile on my face," Rodriguez said. "The clock was winding down, and I didn't really think I was going to get in."
Rodriguez said she's never had a major injury, so missing time was a new experience. Physically, there were adjustments to be made.
"At first, I thought I felt like my balance and coordination were quite off," she said, referring to the Canada game.
"For nine months I was carrying a child, and my weight was distributed totally differently. But I think now that I've got better control, I'm starting to get my speed back."
That speed was evident Saturday. After she nearly scored in her first minute of action, she got her assist eight minutes later, feeding Abby Wambach to put USA up 7-0.
Clearly, Rodriguez is regaining her equilibrium on the field.
Off the field, it's already there. Rodriguez, who married Adam Shilling in 2011, said her husband has been very supportive as she balances her home life with her status as an elite athlete.
"We were very excited when we found out that Amy was expecting," Shilling said via email. "Although we knew it meant she would have to put soccer on hold, we were excited about the idea of starting a family.
"Amy said she was not ready to hang up her cleats. She enjoys her career and wants to continue playing through another World Cup and Olympics. ... I've really enjoyed watching her play over the years -- all the way back to college [at USC]. Now our son will get to watch it as well."
Indeed, little Ryan made his debut as a USA soccer fan Saturday, attending his first game.
Rodriguez, meanwhile, said she looked to her teammates for help on how to handle her pregnancy and comeback. She specifically sought out U.S. team captain Christie Rampone, who has two children.
"She's made it look really easy," Rodriguez said. "It's definitely not as easy as she made it look. It's quite difficult.
"But I think everyone on the team was really positive and excited about my pregnancy. They've been rooting me on to get back, and having that support felt good."
Cox said she never had any doubts about Rodriguez.
If anything, Cox said, Rodriguez needed to just slow down and relax.
"I got cleared a little bit earlier than her to start running, and she had to wait about two months," Cox said. "So she went straight from not doing a whole lot to wanting to go out on the soccer field.
"There's a lot of lateral movement. I said, 'Just take your time, it'll come back.'
"But she looks amazing. She is still one of the fastest players on the team after having a baby. It's pretty incredible.".