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‘Mid-October, you’ll see the best of her’: Amy Rodriguez is finding her footing with North Carolina Courage

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It’s been two months since Amy Rodriguez was sent to North Carolina Courage from Kansas City. Now that she’s had time to settle in with her new team, the forward has a large role to play heading into the last six matches of the season.

Rodriguez was traded along with $60,000 allocation money in exchange for Kristen Hamilton, Hailie Mace and Katelyn Rowland on July 22 after seven and a half seasons with her former team. Fast forward to Saturday and the Courage will be stepping onto the pitch following a 12-day break, looking to crack their three-game goal drought as they take on NJ/NY Gotham FC.

North Carolina head coach Paul Riley wasn’t satisfied with the creativity and the ball movement of the offense coming into the break, but Rodriguez could become a game-changing factor.

“I do feel like I’m slowly getting my footing here,” Rodriguez said. “I was just saying outside to some of the girls that I really had to come in here and hit the ground running, and on a team like North Carolina, where technically we are so complex and there’s a lot of detail that goes into our game plan and our style of play, that has proven to be a little bit difficult for me, but I’ve really enjoyed it and I love this challenge.”

This season, the 2015 FIFA World Cup champion and Olympic gold medalist has started 16 of 18 matches for Kansas City and the Courage combined. With four goals — two with KC and two with North Carolina — she’s netted a total of 45 throughout her NWSL career.

Goals are what the Courage need, but Riley has other priorities to address first.

“People are waiting for super goal production, but I think the more important thing is we get some kind of chemistry between her, between her and Lynn [Williams], between her and Jess [McDonald], and I think that’s the most important part at this point,” he said.

This isn’t the first time Rodriguez and Riley have represented the same team. Riley coached Rodriguez 13 years ago when she was 21, straight out of University of Southern California and playing for the Philadelphia Independence of the Women’s Professional Soccer League.

“A-Rod is one of the top forwards I’ve coached in my 30-year coaching career,” Riley said in a statement following Rodriguez’s trade to North Carolina.

And it seems she’s only gotten better.

“I think she’s already five percent better than she was last week, five percent every week, and I think mid-October, you’ll see the best of her,” he said on Thursday.

According to Riley, Rodriguez is a more mature and intelligent player now, and that it took him five weeks to get used to her not still being the 21-year-old he once knew. Before, her playing style was more about pressuring the opponent’s last line, whereas now she’s better at taking advantage of space on and off the ball. Her fitness levels have also improved.

One aspect that’s taken more adjusting has been the Courage’s formation. Rodriguez has always played in a front three, but North Carolina has two forwards, sometimes with an attacking midfielder.

But it shouldn’t be a problem to get those wrinkles smoothed out by the time playoffs come around. Riley considers her sharper now than she was when she arrived on the team in July.

“I’m excited to see what the future brings for her and what the next month brings,” said Riley.