Sandy • Utah Royals forward Amy Rodriguez had played at Rio Tinto Stadium with the United States crest on her chest before. But this time was different. This time, the stadium at the foot of the Wasatch mountains is home.
“It was kind of a unique experience,” she said. “... It’s always nice to play in front of your home crowd and definitely a lot of fans cheering my name tonight, that felt really good.”
The U.S. women’s national team extended its perfect record at Rio Tinto in a 1-0 win over China PR on Thursday in an international friendly, and Rodriguez’s first international appearance in over a year.
Rodriguez, who has 131 caps and 30 goals in international play, last played for the U.S. on April 6, 2017 between maternity leave and a torn ACL.
“It’s so fun to play with this team,” Rodriguez said, beaming. “...It’s just so nice to be back on the pitch again, wearing the red, white and blue, supporting my team. I just wanted to get my legs back under me and just help the team solidify the win tonight.”
Rodriguez entered in the 76th minute in place of Alex Morgan, who scored the game-winning goal 19 minutes earlier by heading home a free kick from Megan Rapinoe.
“I think it’s remarkable in terms of just how well she’s come back,” U.S. coach Jill Ellis said. “And I know the work she’s put in and I know being a parent to do that with two young boys, it’s just exceptional in terms of just A-Rod and her commitment and her mindset.”
Rodriguez’s hometown crowd appreciated the timing, roaring their support. Playing for the U.S. in Sandy has been a rewarding experience for Rodriguez before; in a 2012 match against Canada, she scored the game-winning goal in a 2-1 win late in the second half.
Against China on Thursday, the United States didn’t need her to play the hero. Fourteen solid minutes, which included her whipping a cross in front of the goal in the 90th minute to earn a corner kick, were enough.
“She looks sharper, she looks fitter, she looks better than ever,” said Royals teammate and U.S. defender Becky Sauerbrunn of Rodriguez.
Sauerbrunn made her second straight start for the United States after she missed the SheBelieves Cup earlier this year with a foot injury, then came off the bench in the first of two April friendlies against Mexico.
Sauerbrunn started the match at right back before moving to central defender 35 minutes in as Ellis shuffled the formation. The result was another shutout for the U.S., which has never lost in five matches at Rio Tinto Stadium.
“We love playing here,” Ellis said. “I think it’s a great surface. I’m kind of a surface snob, and I think this a really nice surface to play on. The crowd’s always very good and they’re knowledgeable about the game, so I think that’s great.”