Lights FC defender Rodrigo Iñigo (left) works for possession during his club debut vs. Rio Grande Valley FC Toros on Saturday, July 14, 2018. (CREDIT: RGVFC)
Defender Rodrigo Iñigo
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It wasn’t that long ago when the great Pável Pardo showed Rodrigo Iñigo the way.
Now, Iñigo is aiming to pay it forward to his younger teammates, making the most of the remaining half of Las Vegas Lights FC’s 2018 season.
The 32-year-old defender became eligible to begin playing for the club in July as a midseason transfer, though was present for weeks before that point, training daily with Lights FC and trying to set an example the best way he learned how.
“Twelve or 13 years ago, when I started my career with (Liga MX giant) Club America, I had a lot of examples to follow, a lot of older players who helped me out,” Iñigo said. “For me and my older teammates, it is important to talk with our younger guys. The best way for me to set an example for our young guys is in the pitch, both in games and in training.”
Iñigo first signed with Club America in 2006, which was the same year Pardo’s prosperous run with the organization was coming to an end.
Pardo’s nearly 20-year professional career included 244 appearances with America from 1999-2006, plus 146 career caps with the Mexican National Team between 1996 and 2009.
The two talked daily while their time with the club overlapped, and Iñigo also picked the brains of other veterans within the club. Pardo taught Iñigo the importance of “playing the ball easy,” never taking more than two or three touches while building the attack, along with stressing the need for constant awareness and focus on the pitch.
One attribute was consistent with every veteran Iñigo took intel from.
“They gave everything, and they were professional,” Iñigo recalled. “They trained 100% every day, and had an amazing mentality going into every day.
“That was gold for me. They are players who are now retired, but they won a lot. They gave everything, and they were professional. When they went on vacations, they were training and eating well. They read good books to train their minds. They got good rest, they didn’t party. If you are professional, you have to be professional 24/7.”
Iñigo hasn’t been the lone veteran setting this tone for the team in 2018. Before his arrival, fellow Liga MX veterans Joel Huiqui and Marcelo Alatorre, plus long-time Major League Soccer midfielder Daigo Kobayashi were among those not just bringing experience to the fold, but leading by example day-in and day-out.
But Iñigo is expecting more of himself during the crucial second half of the 2018 season than just to be a leader by example.
In four matches with the club, he has made three starts, going the full 90 minutes in each of those appearances. Iñigo has shown the versatility to be able to help the club both on the back line and in the midfield, while also becoming a target on certain set pieces.
Iñigo, overall, has been a valuable asset for a team making a push late in the season for a USL Western Conference playoff berth in its inaugural campaign. He feels his presence will be felt more and more as his game conditioning rounds into form.
Tactically, it has been a natural transition while playing for a coaching staff he’s familiar with from previous stops in his professional career. Now, the focus is on maximizing his opportunity and his ability to contribute, the same way he always has.
Whether a player is 22 years old or 32 years old, he wants to help set that approach as the expectation across the board on the Lights FC roster.
“I am 100% physically, but just feeling good physically is not the same as your level inside of the pitch,” Iñigo said. “The only thing I have to do is be focused and concentrated on improving my level. I know what my level is and how it can help this team. These couple of weeks for me have been so good for my confidence. I can help this team with my experience, but I’m the first guy who will say that my level can be better, and I can give even more to the team.”