Declan Rodriguez has put destiny into his own hands when it comes to his up and-coming soccer career.
With his two-year contract with the Whitecaps FC Residency Program set to expire at the end of August, the former Richmond Youth Soccer standout has taken advantage of his amateur status to sign a scholarship deal with the University of Milwaukee. He will be suiting up for the Panthers' program this fall as the lone Canadian player on their roster.
The decision hardly means the recently turned 19-year-old's pro ambitions are over.
The Whitecaps will still own his Major League Soccer playing rights as a Homegrown Player and, if the two sides parted ways, he would be eligible for the MLS draft.
Rodriguez opted for the college route a couple of months ago. Earlier this year he saw two of his U18 Residency teammates, including Richmond's Caleb Clarke, sign first team contracts with the Whitecaps.
"Very few are going to get offered (pro) contracts and many players are doing the college route," said Rodriguez. "I didn't want (my Residency contract to expire and) be caught in nowhere's land, not knowing where I would be next.
"(Milwaukee) saw me when we were playing in Sacramento. "The Whitecaps are happy for me and still hold my First Team playing rights. Really, it's the ideal situation."
Rodriguez came through the RYSA system with arguably the strongest group of players ever to come out of the association. Under head coach Clive Clarke, Richmond Madrid was a dominating force at the Metro level. Rodriguez, Caleb Clarke and Carlos Marquez were eventually offered spots in the Whitecaps' Residency Program.
"We all grew up together and it was just expected that soccer would be our number one sport," recalled Rodriguez. "Clive has probably been the greatest influence in my career. He got me started and committed to soccer and when I was doing high school basketball and other stuff, he pushed me towards it even more."
The Residency Program commitment was far greater than more training sessions each week.
Rodriguez left Cambie secondary after his Grade 11 year and enrolled at Burnaby Central secondary which was a requirement of all high school age Residency players. His daily commute consisted off taking the Canada Line downtown then the Skytrain out to Burnaby before jumping on a bus to the school. Training sessions were held up at SFU.
During his two years with the program, Rodriguez has shifted from midfield to fullback where he has earned a reputation for his ability to jump into the attack with timely runs. He has progressed to the point where he trains with the Reserve team on a regular basis and also dresses for the Under 23 USL Premier Development League (PDL) team.
"It has really helped me out a lot," said Rodriguez of the program. "Not only have I improved as a player but it's also brought me a lot of exposure in the U.S."
Since he has graduated from high school and now drives, the trek to Burnaby for training has been easier. Rodriguez has managed to juggle a part-time job and is currently working for a moving company to save up some money for school. With his departure from the program imminent, the Whitecaps have even accommodated his work schedule, allowing him to train only two times a week.
"They need me for nationals," he laughs.
The U18 Whitecaps won two of three playoff games in Texas last week to advance to the Final Eight of the U.S. Soccer Development Academy Playoffs. The finals will take place July 16-23 in Houston.
The team's success likely means both Rodriguez and Marquez won't be in the Whitecaps' PDL team's line-up Saturday for what would have been a rare "home" game against the Victoria Highlanders at Minoru Park. The match is part of a Whitecaps doubleheader that will conclude with the Women's team facing Victoria at 4 p.m.
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