Calling Luis “Pulga” Rodríguez just a “cult hero” does a disservice to his popularity. Though he’s never played a professional match for a club in Argentina’s well-known footballing capital of Buenos Aires, let alone for a club outside his own country, his popularity knows no bounds in his homeland. Diminutive but firey, stocky but skilled, Pulga has captured the hearts and minds of the Argentine public, first during his multiple stints with Atlético Tucumán and now with Colón.
When his side take to the pitch in Asunción on Saturday for the 2019 Sudamericana Final, by far the biggest match in the club’s history, they’ll do so assuredly backed by not just a strong travelling contingent but also supported by a country that would love to see footballing icon finally lift a trophy.
Pulga took an unusual path to glory, spending time training in the academies of both Real Madrid and Inter Milan in Europe as a youth player. Those opportunities didn’t quite work out, sending him back to his home state of Tucumán in Argentina. In over 300 games over a span of 10 years, broken up by a one year foray with Newell’s, Pulga tallied 130 goals while adding in another 54 assists. During his time with the club, Tucumán rose from the third tier of Argentine football to the top, and Pulga was an integral part of the highest of highs: a Libertadores berth.
In 2016, just one year after being promoted from the second tier, Tucumán finished 5th in the Argentine top division, earning a coveted Libertadores berth. Tucumán took a wild ride through the Libertadores, capturing the hearts and minds of fans across the continent. They fell short in the group stage of the 2017 edition of the competition, but qualified again in 2018, advancing all the way to the quarterfinals before being felled by Brazilian giant Grêmio.
After more than 10 years with Tucumán, Pulga took the plunge and moved to Colón in 2019, instantly retaining his status as a fan favorite. Colón’s run in the Sudamericana has included eliminating Argentinos Juniors on penalties in the Round of 16, and then accomplishing the same feat against Atlético Mineiro of Brazil in the semifinals. Pulga has been a factor throughout, scoring 4 goals and adding another 4 assists.
⚫🔴 Pulga Rodríguez has had quite the #Sudamericana! @ColonOficial's talisman has 4⃣ goals ⚽ and 4⃣ assists 🎯 so far.
👉 On November 9th at @Asuncion2019, he'll look to add to his total. pic.twitter.com/fCDPvWgUnk — CONMEBOL Sudamericana EN (@TheSudamericana) October 25, 2019
But the moments he’ll always be remembered for came against Mineiro in the semifinal. Down on the night and needing a goal to force penalties, Colón won a spot kick with less than 10 minutes to play. Pulga calmly stepped up and slotted home, with that result holding to ensure penalties to decide the finalist.
In the penalty shoot-out, Pulga took a penalty that will go down in history, seemingly unfazed by any pressure, even with the knowledge that a miss would put the shoot-out in Atlético’s hands, he calmly stepped up, stuttered and finished with what can only be described in one word: class. Another wily veteran, Colón goalkeeper Leandro Burián then saved a spot kick from Juan Cazares sending Colón into their first ever continental final.
On Saturday, thousands of Colón fans will be in La Nueva Olla in Asunción, having travelled the relatively short distance from Santa Fe. When their team takes to the pitch, they’ll do so in search of their first continental trophy. While the pressure will surely be higher than perhaps it ever has been for the club, there’s one man who assuredly won’t feel a bit of it: Pulga.