During the preseason, Red Bulls head coach Juan Carlos Osorio assembled a shopping list of elements needed by his team.
High on that list was a quintessential second attacker who could mesh with Juan Pablo Angel. In Venezuelan international Jorge Rojas, Red Bull has found a complement for Angel, who knew him somewhat from the other side of the ball, when his national team played against Colombia.
"Well, about Juan Pablo, it was mostly when I faced him with the national team, and well, when he played in England [Aston Villa], he was exceptional," says Rojas, 31. "He is a very interesting player, he is very professional both inside and outside of the playing field. He motivates people. He has been a great leader who has helped to keep us where we are."
And where are the Red Bulls? Squarely in the Eastern Conference playoff chase.
In his first six games, Rojas earned four assists and aside from blowing a few prime scoring chances, looked very much the part with a crafty sense and slick touch on the ball. Two of those assists came on goals by Angel, who scored five goals in six games with Rojas on the field.
"He has great talent and a lot of vision for the game," says Angel. "And on a personal level, he is a great man with a family and with experience, so it is very easy to interact with him."
By adding Rojas, midfielder Juan Pietravallo (Argentina), and defenders Gabriel Cichero (Venezuela) and Diego Jimenez (Mexico), Osorio forged a team that erased most memories of embarrassing defeats to Colorado (4-0) and D.C. United (4-1) earlier in the season as well as a 2-0 loss to USL-2 club Crystal Palace Baltimore in the U.S. Open Cup.
Before coming to MLS from UA Maracaibo, Rojas bounced around clubs in several countries while earning 85 caps – second all-time – for Venezuela, which dropped to eighth among the 10-team South American World Cup 2010 qualifying competition after three straight losses.
"There is a lot of hope we could make it, but it's tough, there is a lot of competition, everything is pretty even," says Rojas. "That has been the hot topic. We have to think that going to [the World Cup] the first time could be the most important thing for our country."
After playing for Venezuela against Peru in early September, a passport problem delayed his return to the U.S. but he came back in time to play in a 2-1 victory over Real Salt Lake to preserve his unbeaten record (3-0-3) in MLS.
"The game is very dynamic," he said of the American league. "I've tried to adapt. It differs from other countries like Colombia, Venezuela and Ecuador that I played in. The game [there] is a little more paused, the ball is moved around more.
"This is a very interesting league, very dynamic and very organized, and it is also very equal. This is important because any team can win — it doesn't matter who they play."
(This article originally appeared in the October 2008 issue of Soccer America magazine.)