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'SC SOPHOMORE WORKING TO REGAIN FORM RODRIGUEZ HAS HAD A SLOW START.

Byline: SCOTT FRENCH Staff Writer

USC's target striker might not have the numbers UCLA's Lauren Cheney has put up, but there's never been any question about her abilities. Amy Rodriguez possesses touch more storied players envy, and her speed, skills and athleticism portend a long international career.

Rodriguez, the centerpiece of USC's best-in-the-nation freshman class a year ago, already has made fiveappearances with the U.S. national team, scoring in her debut at the 2005 Algarve Cup. She was in residency with the squad last summer at Home Depot Center.

Last month, she starred for the U.S. under-20 team at the World Championship in Russia, where Cheney was among her teammates. Now, she is looking to better her All-America freshman campaign with the Trojans before an anticipated return to the national team next year for its Women's World Cup preparations.

``She's got a chance to have a 15-year national team career if she doesn't get injured and keeps improving the little things about her game,'' USC coach Jim Millinder said. ``She's just so dangerous, can change a game in a second ... and I always say she had the quickest two, three steps in the world probably. Her acceleration is unbelievable, and she can turn on a dime. You think you're all over her, and she's already spun, and she's taken her second touch, and she's already gone. She just leaves you in the dust.''

Rodriguez, a solidly built 5-foot-4 striker, has been a known quantity since her early teens, when she emerged from Orange County's storied Laguna Hills Eclipse club program to join the U.S. under-16 national team. She was the Gatorade National Player of the Year the year before Cheney and the top U.S. recruit in her class.

``Every game I come out, I think I've got this name tag on my back,'' said Rodriguez, who often is marked by two defenders, sometimes three. ``I have a reputation that defenders look for when they're scouting teams. Certain players on certain teams get that reputation, and I happen to be one of them. ... I like having that name tag on my back. It gives me kind of a motivation or confidence that I think I show on the field. It has its benefits and its drawbacks, but it's nothing I'm going to shy away from.''

She made an immediate impact at USC, scoring nine goals and contributing seven assists to lead the Trojans into the NCAA Tournament last season. After missing the first three weekends of this season while in Russia, she's had a slow start statistically, scoring just two goals with two assists in seven games while battling injury, regaining chemistry with teammates and trying to unlock defensive schemes meant to slow her down.

Fellow forwards Nini Loucks (Canyon of Canyon Country), and Lauren Brown and midfielders Rosa Anna Tantillo and Stacey Strong also play important roles in the attack, which has managed 20 goals in 12 games. USC (7-2-3 overall, 0-0-2 Pac-10), is ranked from 19th to 24th nationally but hasn't scored in conference play and has relied on a defense that has posted nine shutouts.

``Amy's just getting her legs back from being in Russia,'' Millinder said. ``She's been training all summer long, without a break.

Said Rodriguez: ``My main job is to score goals, which is coming. It's on the way.''

scott.french@dailynews.com

(818) 713-3627

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USC striker Amy Rodriguez, who has made five appearances with the U.S. national team, scored nine goals last season.

Courtesy of USC
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Oct 15, 2006
Words:592
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