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Meet CITY’s Kelly Roderick, the first female Head of Sport Science in Major League Soccer
If you see Kelly Roderick in action, don’t be fooled by her game face.
She’s knee deep in data, analyzing the health and performance of every CITY player on the field via live load management and GPS tracking. She’s following everything from high-speed running to accelerations, while making on-the-fly individual load suggestions to CITY’s Performance Director and Technical Staff.
In the gym, she helps to optimize strength programming via weekly baseline testing and other monitoring tools or assessments. And after the players leave the field, she’s hard at work developing analytical visuals and reports to provide even more context to the coaching staff on each player’s development.
She’s hard at work – but she still wants to meet you.
“You should say hi!” Kelly Roderick said. “I would love for people to know that I am passionate about and absorbed in what I’m doing, but I’m approachable. I’d love to meet anyone who is interested in what we are doing for this team.”
Roderick is the Head of Sport Science at St. Louis CITY SC, a multifaceted and challenging position that sees her applying scientific principles to sports performance on the field and in the gym. It’s a job that helps CITY players maximize their goals while preventing injury and working smarter, and she’s the first woman in Major League Soccer to hold the title.
Roderick is a lifelong competitive athlete, hailing from a family of professional athletes and playing field hockey in college. The Ohio native’s first MLS experience was with the Columbus Crew, where she started as an intern and continued to work for about five years. During her time at the Crew, the team won the MLS Cup in 2020 and Campeones Cup in 2021. She then moved to Los Angeles to work with Angel City FC in the National Women’s Soccer League and has been with CITY since November 2022.
“I decided to come visit, and I was here for one day,” Roderick said. “There’s something unique about a club that when you walk in, you immediately sense the type of environment. Everyone regardless of role was interacting, engaging in constructive criticism or discussions about the next training session, and there wasn’t any tension. I think that’s a very rare environment in professional sports. Not that it was relaxed, but that everyone was there for the greater purpose of making the team better – it was a really great feeling for me.”
For Roderick, it’s been a whirlwind first few months. CITY triumphed in its season opener in Austin, and in its home opener against Charlotte FC.
The atmosphere of collaboration that she picked up on during her interviews, she says, is truly part of the organization’s DNA.
“The team’s success relies on the culture created and the relationships developed,” Roderick said. “Certainly, I have a very diverse skill set and a good coaching eye, but what I like to think sets me apart in this field is my ability to develop relationships with people. Because that’s what it’s about. All of these players, they’re just people. They’re elite people, but they are just people, and if you can’t develop a relationship with them, it makes it very challenging to be successful.”
Mentorship is another type of relationship Roderick values highly. As she was coming up in her field, she had a few women to look up to, such as Major League Baseball’s Rachel Balkovec. She’s hoping she can be a similar source of knowledge and inspiration for the next generation of women in sports.
“When I first started working in the league, there hadn’t yet been a female who was a full-time strength and conditioning coach,” Roderick said. “Now there’s two, myself being one of them, which is awesome because representation is something that can be improved upon so much within this environment. What’s really powerful for me is that I get to start having women reach out to me and ask what I do and how I got here. That is really the most important thing for me: to try and speak to as many of these women as I can. I didn’t have that, but hopefully I can provide that for them.”
“There’s a misconception in sports,” Roderick says. “That it’s hard to accommodate a woman within a male team.” But she sees her perspective as an outsider as an advantage; it’s helped her develop a unique relationship with the players.
As a result of these relationships, her career has been a masterclass in evolution and grit. Roderick found her way to MLS by volunteering at a Columbus Crew performance testing event and pitching herself to team leadership despite the lack of an available role for her. Her persistence landed her an internship, and her professional soccer journey was born.
Roderick credits Columbus Crew leadership for taking a chance on and championing her as a woman in sports performance. It gave her the confidence to continue to break boundaries – and helped her find her way to CITY.
“St. Louis is giving me an opportunity in much the same way,” she said. “Being the first woman to hold my title, it’s a huge role, and I’m really excited to do the best that I can. But it also says a lot about the organization and what they’re striving for. It always comes back to the fact that we represent more than soccer.”
That prove-yourself mentality is something she shares with CITY, a team ready to make its mark in its inaugural season.
“As an expansion club, it’s difficult to be the new kid on the block,” Roderick said. “You’re going to be overlooked, discounted and disregarded. But I can tell you that these guys are probably some of the most competitive people I’ve ever met in my life, and it excites me to see how we’re going to compete in every single game. I think that will ultimately bring us success.”
While she might be new to St. Louis, Roderick can already tell how much CITY means to the entire region. In November, she attended the closing match for CITY’s MLS NEXT Pro team, CITY2, and was blown away by the sheer numbers and passion of a crowd not fazed by freezing temperatures. That’s when she realized how much love CITY has behind them.
“I think CITY is going to be huge for St. Louis,” she said. “That feeling [from the match] made me realize just how much this meant, and to everyone on staff as well. That type of support is going to be huge for these players and the city.”
And with two games under her belt, Roderick is thrilled for what’s next.
“To me, fulfillment as a coach and sports scientist comes from being part of something greater than yourself,” she said. “There’s a feeling you get when you know you’re in the right place, and upon my visit to St. Louis, it was evident. When you’re surrounded by good people who take you in as family, it doesn’t feel like work. I think what we have as a club and a culture is rare, and I hope it is reflected when these players step onto the field.”