On the bench with Rodrigo Hidalgo

Men’s soccer player Rodrigo Hidalgo had options last season. So many, in fact, that he decided to leave USF and go to Boston College. After about five minutes up North, he quickly ran back to Tampa where the highly praised recruiting class of coach George Kiefer and a team that lost just one starter to MLS – his best friend, Christian Jimenez – awaited him.

As a freshman he led the team in scoring with 18 points (six goals and six assists) on a soccer team that was ranked as high as No. 10 during the 2004 season but suffered a quick defeat in the C-USA tournament. Now, just days after the Bulls (3-3-1, 2-0 Big East) beat No. 16 Seton Hall and No. 21 Georgetown in back-to-back games, Hidalgo is having fun in the Florida sun and isn’t worried about rankings or records – just winning.

The sophomore recently sat down with Oracle Sports Editor Mike Camunas for a chat, which Hidalgo enjoyed all too much.

MC: You’ve been in college a year already, though you just turned 18 last month. What have you learned in that year at such a young age?

RH: I’ve learned a lot as far as soccer goes. As a student I’ve also learned a lot, like how to be by myself and how to be like an independent person. I’m kind of happy that I’m maturing a lot.

MC: Why did you come back to USF?

RH: I went up (to Boston College), and I started thinking a lot about, like, the original reasons why I came to USF, and I felt I hadn’t completed a lot of those. I have a lot here. My teammates, (my) friends, (it’s) closer to home and I just want to help build this program and put USF on a bigger scale.

MC: Be honest: Can you stay awake for a whole Major League Soccer game on TV?

RH: It depends who’s playing. I’m not too big on MLS. If it’s two top teams, I try. (Laughs.)

MC: Is that a future for you? An MLS player?

RH: I really don’t see myself as MLS because I’d rather be an international player. But MLS would be my best chance, and if they gave me that chance, I would make the best of it.

MC: Who’s going to win the 2006 World Cup in Germany?

RH: I definitely have to go with Brazil. They are just on a different level. If you look at their players, they have four of the best five players in the world coming at you. They have the best opportunity. They are unbelievable.

MC: Who’s the funniest guy on the men’s soccer team?

RH: That would probably be (midfielder) Kris Raad. His life is like a reality show to me. He just makes me laugh with everything he says. Everything about him is awesome to me, and he’s like my best friend and keeps me smiling.

MC: Ever challenge Kiefer to a one-on-one match?

RH: (Laughs.) Nah. For sure, nah. He has way more (soccer) knowledge than me.

MC: Sounds like you’re scared.

RH: Of coach Kiefer? (Laughs.) No. I have a lot of respect for him. He’s done a lot for our program, and we are who we are right now because of what he’s done and more.

MC: If you couldn’t play soccer, what would you do?

RH: I’d be a writer. Probably writing books. I love writing; it frees my mind a lot. It gives me an opportunity to really connect with my inner feelings that I never really let out. I’d be stuck at home writing a book that was about real life – about all the negative stuff that happens in the world or rough childhoods, such as my own. Nothing fiction. Life lesson-teaching books.

MC: Favorite book?

RH: Lance Armstrong, It’s Not About the Bike. Just as an athlete, I feel he is the greatest ever. He inspires me, and reading it from his own words is what gets you by surprise, really.

MC: I’ve seen you at a lot of different USF sporting events. Who’s your favorite team to follow, why and how do you think they’ll fare this year?

RH: I love to follow every team, but apparently we are in America and the most important sport is football, so I like to support football. I believe if they do real well, it’ll do a lot for our (athletic) program and get our name out there for soccer and everything else. You can win a national championship in every other sport but football and still not be one of the top schools.

MC: Favorite soccer movie? Bend it Like Beckham, right?

RH: (Laughs.) No, I don’t really believe in that movie. It’s actually Victory. You know, the one with Pele? It’s inspiring, but not like there are many soccer movies to choose from.

MC: Who plays Rodrigo Hidalgo in the Rodrigo Hidalgo movie?

RH: Al Pacino. He can act any role, because he can act all happy and at the same time act like Scarface. That’s a lot like me because if you see me on the field, it’s like, “Whoa, this kid is like a beast.”

MC: Why the long hair?

RH: It’s a soccer thing. Lots of guys have it. Just having the feeling of my hair bouncing around while I’m playing, like in slow motion, kind of makes it like a movie.

MC: That movie came out. It was called Hidalgo, which was a horse. People rag on you because of the name of that movie?

RH: (Laughs.) They do sometimes. There will be an argument about what a cool name I have, and I’ll say, “Yeah, they made a movie about me.” Then I’ll get, “Yeah, it’s a horse, for God’s sake.” I wish it could have been something like Hidalgo of Troy. Something better.

MC: How about you do what the Brazilian players do and just go by Rodrigo on the back of your jersey?

RH: (Laughs.) We were talking about that in the locker room, and my name in Brazil would be Rigodino. It’s funny how my name came about. When my mom was pregnant with me, my dad didn’t want to have me. My mom actually named me Rodrigo Hidalgo so I know that I was his son and that’s how I came about, and that’s something that means a lot to me.