Rodriguez leads on, off the soccer field

Orlando Rodriguez is holding a ball.
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© Chuck Kirman/VC Star
Hueneme High School soccer star Orlando Rodriguez poses for a photo in the school locker room. © Chuck Kirman/VC Star
Orlando Rodriguez can sympathize with his teammates.

The Hueneme High boys soccer team’s sweeper spends every afternoon organizing the Vikings’ defense, pointing out every loose assignment, every gap to close.

And every night, the 17-year-old senior captain returns home to his older sister, Ligia, pointing at the dirty dishes, the unmade bed and other chores.

“I know how they feel,” said Rodriguez with a laugh.

“At home, my sister is the one who tells me what to do, ironically.”

So it is with a measure of empathy that the Pacific View League champions march on in the CIF-Southern Section Division 3 playoffs.

“Sometimes I get really mad and I yell,” said Rodriguez. “It doesn’t feel good but I have to do it in the game.”

With Rodriguez pulling the strings, fourth-seeded Hueneme (12-1-4), who visits Lompoc-Cabrillo Wednesday in the second round of the playoffs, allowed just one goal from open play during league play.

“He runs the defense,” said Hueneme coach Tuck Engelmann.

“He organizes everybody. He’s rarely out of position. He could have a great game and barely touch the ball because he’s delegating.”

Rodriguez is a 4.0 student who does his best to be a leader in the classroom and on the field.

“He’s really gracious and respectful,” said Engelmann.

“He’s never in a bad mood. I don’t know anyone that doesn’t like him.”

No. 99 may seem like a flashy uniform number for such a steady player and teammate. But the priceless defender explained that he was at the 99 Cent Store when he was asked to pick his digits.

“I didn’t know what number to pick,” said Rodriguez.

“I just looked up and saw the sign I think it’s original. Other players remember me because of my number.”

His teammates turn to him for other reasons.

“If we’re down for a reason,” said senior Gustavo Navarro, “he pulls us up.”

“He’s a natural leader,” said Sanchez.

Ask about his season and the proud senior captain responds with a tour of his team.

He points out his strong and swift marking backs, Juan Ambriz and Elmer Perez, who do the dirty work of the Vikings’ back four.

“They’re both really good defenders,” said Rodriguez. “I think we have the strongest defense in the league because of those guys.”

He points out his acrobatic goalkeeper, Nestor Mercado, and his diligent stopper, Martin Gutierrez.

“Martin started on the bench, but he keeps getting better and better each game,” said Rodriguez. “Nestor has confidence in himself and the defense. He does a really good job every game.”

He points out the attacking fulcrum of attacking midfielder Alex Sanchez and winger Gustavo Navarro and compares his view from the back to the toughest tickets to the greatest show in the world.

“Alex can spread the ball so easy … it is beautiful to watch him play,” said Rodriguez. “And when Gustavo gets the ball, he can do magic.

“When they play together it’s like watching Barcelona play.”

Together, they have gone on a journey that began undefeated for 14 straight games.

“People recognized us because we were undefeated. It may have made some teams jealous,” said Rodriguez.

“It was good and bad. I think the most important thing is that we were happy with our results and we gained confidence.”

Channel Islands stopped the streak on Feb. 3 with a 1-0 win at Hueneme, but the Vikings recovered to clinch the league title with a scoreless draw Feb. 8 at Rio Mesa.

With the pressure of an unbeaten season released, Hueneme responded with a vintage performance Friday, when it edged visiting Lancaster-Eastside, 1-0, in a driving rainstorm.”We want to make history,” said Rodriguez. “Last year, we just went to the second round.

“This year, we want to go further.”

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