Socializing: Westfield Montgomery shopping mall and Rockville Pike.
For college, he shifted all of 20 miles east to the next jurisdiction.
“Rockville,” he said last week, “it’s home.”
Deeper roots, though, lie 2,000 miles away, in Central America. And this summer, while former college and pro teammates lament their failure with the U.S. national team to qualify for the World Cup, Wallace will celebrate his 30th birthday on June 17 wearing a Costa Rican jersey in southwestern Russia for the Group E opener against Serbia.
Born in Costa Rica, he was 9 when his mother, Sandra, accepted a job with the Organization of American States, headquartered three blocks from the White House. His father, Sydney, an agricultural specialist, was hired by the University of Maryland.
Rodney and his older sister, Wendy, assimilated to their new home, a geographic and cultural world away from the Desamparados district outside of Costa Rica’s capital, San Jose. Though he had an Anglo-sounding name and honed his athletic skills in the United States, Wallace was, at the time of his international soccer coming of age, eligible to play for his homeland only. (Two years later, he became a U.S. citizen.)
“We are very grateful to be here and be American,” his father said, “but with soccer, we are Costa Rican.”
And so his son has balanced a kinship, proudly sporting Costa Rican colors while embracing American life.
“I am definitely Costa Rican, the way I feel, my blood, my upbringing, my parents,” he said. “At the same time, I’ve spent so many years here, I’ve grown up here and associate with so many things in this country. I don’t see that as anything wrong. This country has given me a lot of opportunities. I am grateful for it.
“The good thing about me is I can adapt to both worlds. It’s helped me. I am able to switch on and switch off, stay involved with the way of life in America and things going on in Costa Rica. Being diversified helped me in growing up.”
A regular selection and occasional starting winger for Costa Rica, Wallace was among 23 players named to a World Cup squad that, four years after a heroic run to the quarterfinals in Brazil, faces long odds of escaping a group headlined by Brazil and Switzerland. He will report to training camp this week.
Wallace had made his debut for the Ticos in 2011, scoring against, of all opponents, the United States in a 1-0 friendly in Carson, Calif. An anterior cruciate ligament injury in late 2013 ended his hopes of making the World Cup team the following summer.
“I always had that dream, especially as a kid growing up in Costa Rica,” he said. “You look up to the players and watch them on the biggest stage; you want to be like them.”
And to be like his cousin, Harold Wallace, a defender on Costa Rica’s 2002 and 2006 World Cup squads, who made 101 international appearances over 14 years.
Sydney would take Rodney to league matches involving Harold’s long-standing club, Alajuelense. The family supported a Central Valley rival, Herediano.
Rodney had just joined Alajuelense’s youth setup when the family decided to move to the United States.
“At the beginning, everyone was concerned about leaving friends and school behind,” Sandra said. “So I tried to find something they really liked.”
She saw an ad in the Montgomery Gazette and emailed Arnold Tarzy at the Potomac soccer club.
One problem: Rodney had given away his cleats before the move. So he wore tennis shoes, then scored three goals, all on headers.
Wallace starred for the Potomac Cougars for seven years. “He had an instinct and technical ability,” Tarzy said, “that was advanced beyond his years.”
In his senior season at Bullis, a Potomac prep school, Wallace recorded 21 goals and seven assists. Next: College Park. In 2008, Maryland won the national title with a squad that also included future U.S. World Cup starters Graham Zusi and Omar Gonzalez.
This time around, Wallace is going to soccer’s spectacle while Zusi, Gonzalez and former Portland teammate Darlington Nagbe, a U.S. midfielder, are staying home.
“You always root for your boys,” Wallace said. “There are some things bigger than the game — those connections and friendships. When the U.S. didn’t make it, I spoke to Nagbe. I knew what it meant to him.”
And what going to the World Cup has meant to Wallace.
“I had this little recording toy when I first moved to the States,” he said. “I recorded myself eventually wanting to make the Costa Rican national team. I had forgotten about it, then found it a few years ago. I put the batteries back in because I knew what I had said. It was a cool moment because I knew at that time where I wanted to be. Now, I am living it.”