Nicole Rodriguez represents Puerto Rico proudly

For Puerto Rican national team midfielder Nicole Rodriguez, she never had to go searching to find out about her family’s heritage. Despite being born and raised in Connecticut, her parents made sure the family’s Puerto Rican heritage was omnipresent in the house. “Puerto Rico and Puerto Rican culture is something that has been present in my life and household since I was born,” Rodriguez explained. “My parents taught us Spanish as our first language and they made sure that we were consistently practicing and keeping up with it. My siblings and I all speak Spanish fluently because of their efforts.”

“We also were lucky enough to have all of our family down in Puerto Rico (they are still there). So this allowed us to visit in the summer and for holidays. We kept up with the traditions and really got to experience Puerto Rico really frequently. Puerto Rican food is 100% my comfort food.”

Rodriguez, in addition to a solid NCAA career at Notre Dame and in various leagues after college, has made a name for herself playing for Puerto Rico’s women’s national team. “Being able to represent Puerto Rico is a massive honor, both for me and my family,” she said. “I will always have a vision of my grandpa when we played Haiti in 2015. We had to win the game in order to pass to the next and final round of Olympic Qualifying and the game was in the stadium in PR (Puerto Rico).”

“My entire family, including my grandpa got to come and watch (my grandma watched on TV). We lined up for the national anthems and I spotted my grandpa sitting in the first row. It just made me so proud to be able to see him there, singing the anthem and being able to honor him and the rest of my family in that way. It’s something that I will never forget or take for granted.”

There has been friction in the past between the PR women’s national team players and the Puerto Rican Football Federation based on unfair treatment. Rodriguez explained, “COVID has really thrown a wrench in everything with Puerto Rico. We luckily have a new President and cabinet for the Federation and they are really doing their best to make things better. It’s slow going as there were SO many things wrong, but I truly believe that they are doing their best and they also are trying to work with the players to make things better.”

“Operations have essentially stopped for soccer in PR except for minor preparations for the men’s WC qualifying which I believe is now to take place next March. I think it’s been hard for everyone because we haven’t had an opportunity to play or train with each other since last October, but we are keeping in touch and we still have the dream of being able to make a good run in WWC Qualifying which should begin next fall or Spring 2022.”

When she’s not representing Puerto Rico on the pitch, you can find Nicole in Colorado where she’s a Spanish teacher for Castle View High School. Obviously, the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted her day-to-day routine as an educator. “This year has been WILDLY difficult as a teacher. There is so much adaptation needed by every single teacher and student,” she explained. “Everyone has worked so hard and I think it’s been especially hard because no matter how much time you dedicate or how hard you work, it never really feels like it’s good enough and you feel like you’re failing your students a little bit.”

“This has had to be a shift of just knowing that we are doing our best and that it’s a new challenge for all of us. Training has honestly been my saving grace during this crazy time.”

Rodriguez is also the varsity women’s soccer coach at Castle View. “Last season I didn’t get to coach my team as we shut down in March, when our usual season is. We’re hoping to be able to start our season at the end of April 2021, but I haven’t done any training with my team as we are trying to maintain cohorting within our school,” she said. “This has been super sad because I love training and interacting with those girls.”

“Coaching is something that I continue to learn about every day. I haven’t been a coach for very long, so I try to learn as much as I can each day that I’m out there. It’s awesome when something works well for the team and I’m so happy for the girls when they get an awesome opportunity to play in college or just to see them grow throughout their high school careers. I’m thankful I’ve gotten the opportunity thus far and I’m excited to keep working and learning.”

Another opportunity presented to Nicole at Castle View was meeting Kyle Erlenbeck, a science teacher at the school. After three years of being a couple, Erlenbeck and Rodriguez got married a few weeks back. “We were so thankful that we got to celebrate with our families and close friends,” Nicole said. “It was the most fun we have had probably EVER. Definitely a day neither of us will ever forget.”

The newlyweds will continue to try and navigate the challenging 2020 landscape as teachers and Nicole will have an eye towards the future when she can return to representing Puerto Rico proudly on the pitch.

Carson A Merk

Reporting live from Sin City, I have covered both RGVFC and Las Vegas Lights FC since their inceptions. I also write profiles to highlight players from the NCAA to USL to NWSL and everywhere in between.