By Michael Lewis/NPSL.com
As a manager of a FedEx facility in the Bronx, NY no one needs to remind Handy Coby Jean Rodriguez about how important it is to make sure packages are delivered on time.
And that includes goals as well.
After all, he was the player who delivered some key goals in FC Motown’s march to the 2022 NPSL championship.
Little doubt Rodriguez has a flair for the dramatic.
In the semifinals, Rodriguez connected for the equalizer in the 85th minute in what turned into a 2-1 road triumph over Tulsa Athletic on July 30.
In the championship game against Crossfire Redmond, Rodriguez came off the bench in the second half and struck twice in the final 10 minutes to lift FC Motown to its first NPSL championship at MSU Soccer Park in Montclair, NJ on August 6.
“It was so exciting,” he said. “This is the first time winning the NPSL championship.”
Rodriguez’s late-match heroics weren’t foreign to him.
“That’s not the first time but this is the first time I scored in a very important game, not in the regular season,” he said. “The game was very tight, and we really needed it. I know my personality. I never give up….I just show up and make it happen.”
At games and at training, Rodriguez’s passion is on display.
FC Motown’s matches were held at Drew University in Madison, NJ, some 40 miles away from Rodriguez’s Bronx home, and in Montclair, NJ, 23 miles away. Regardless of the venue, a toll and probable congestion at the George Washington Bridge also could make the trek tedious and longer than expected.
Rodriguez? It’s part of being a soccer player, a life he loves.
“It’s like I’ve got like five, six friends and every time is a pleasure for me to play with them as a teammate,” he said. “Sometimes, you drive like 40 [minutes], an hour, to go to practice or to go to the game. You don’t really feel it because you do something that you like. When I’m with them, I feel like, ‘Oh, this is my house.’ I feel okay with them. I don’t really feel the travel and stuff like that because we enjoy it.”
The team dedicated this season to Sainclair Tueno, a beloved FC Motown player who passed away on May 12 from injuries suffered from a March automobile accident.
“He was always with us and fought for us,” Rodriguez said. “Everything that happened to his life is about Motown. This is why we all said, ‘Okay, so let’s do it for him. Let’s win for him.’ It’s all about him. All the motivation and all the goals are for him.”
Rodriguez, 25, tallied six goals in three starts and 16 appearances this season. He said a leg injury limited his effectiveness, but his contributions were appreciated by the team management.
“Coby was an amazing teammate first and great player to follow,” FC Motown general manager Gregory Irwin said. “He was incredibly dedicated throughout the season, and his dedication paid off when we needed him most.”
Rodriguez’s passion for soccer began while growing up in his native Haiti. It certainly didn’t hurt that his mentor was his uncle, Jean-Claude Josaphat, who coached the Haitian national team from 2016-17.
“When I was maybe five, he showed me how to kick the ball and to pass the ball and how to dribble,” Rodriguez said. “He showed me everything because he used to be a player. He was the one that made me love soccer. Since then, I watched a lot of games to learn my position and how to support myself if I make a mistake. What should I do better? It was all about him.”
That helped the 5-6, 158-lb. Rodriguez to excel as a player, performing for several Haitian youth national sides, including the Under-23 team that included Columbus Crew midfielder-forward Derrick Etienne, Jr.
Rodriguez loves the game for so many reasons, and it’s not always what transpires on the field.
“When you’re watching a game [between] Barcelona and Real Madrid, the way that you see the players are moving, and the fans and you see them hug each other,” Rodriguez said. “It’s like your family.”
“I’ve got like five like brothers from another mother because of soccer, the way we support each other,” Rodriguez added. “The person that you meet from a soccer game is not someone that’s going to tell you, ‘Let’s go drink alcohol. Let’s go to this. Let’s go do that. Let’s go to the club.’ You meet people who say ‘Let’s work out. Let’s do this.’ If you do this, I think it’s going to be better. You learn from soccer to be your life. That’s why I like soccer.”
Oh, and about those four names – Handy Coby Jean Rodriguez – which can get a bit confusing at times.
A writer recently communicating with him on the internet called Rodriguez Coby, before apologizing for not using his first name.
“Not a problem. My first name is Handy. Most people call me Coby. It’s also my name but it is Handy. Or you can call me Cob. Some people call me Jean, some people call me Rodriguez. It’s all my names,” he said with a chuckle.
Rodriguez isn’t playing in any amateur or semi-pro leagues this fall, though he said that he has received some offers. He said he didn’t want to push himself and suffer another leg injury.
“I want to be okay with my legs…for the next season and then I can give 100 percent,” he said.
And beyond next season. Rodriguez has a lofty goal to play professionally. He has been considering his options because he does have a full-time job.
“I do want to be a professional,” he said. “That makes me work so hard to be a professional. It’s all about work, so I never give up. Next season, I’m going to bring something new. I have to make it. Next season maybe I can find something. I’m not saying like from another country, but here in the U.S. I have to find a team. I’m going to work for it. I’m going to bring everything that I have and see if I can be professional because it’s not too late. I’m 25. I have like maybe six or seven years to be a professional. I have to start now.”
Especially if Handy Coby Jean Rodriguez continues to show he has those dramatic finishing touches with a game on the line.
Photo Credit: Vinny Carchietta/NPSL.com