Rojas' eyes return to winning ways
He grew up in Mexico City, just 20 miles from Estadio Azteca stadium, playing futbol all day with his friends.
And Oscar Rojas, dribbling the ball frantically, always had a Club America shirt or jersey on his back. His father, Salvador, practically bred him to be a fan of the Azulcremas, regularly bringing young Oscar and his other son, Salvador Jr., to lively America games.
Oscar went on to play for America's youth team and is now a starting defender for the once proud side. In a way, Rojas is Club America, and nobody wants to see the team pick itself off the pitch more than he does.
"The last few years have been difficult and complicated for us," Rojas said. "The team has not played for a championship. It's been unfortunate, it's difficult, but there is no excuse for it. I know there is pressure for the team, it's always expected to do well."
A win over Italian powerhouse AC Milan in the World Football Challenge on Wednesday (7 p.m. ET, ESPN2, ESPN360.com) at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta wouldn't erase the pain of America's spiral to the bottom of the Primera Division. However, it would be a morale boost and perhaps something, anything to get America playing well again, like Las Aguilas has for so many decades before.
America got off to a good start to the round-robin tournament last Sunday, surprising another Serie A heavy hitter, Inter Milan, with a 2-1 (5-4) victory in penalty kicks. Rojas struck the game-winner in PKs at Stanford Stadium in Palo Alto, Calif. AC Milan is coming off a 2-2 tie in a friendly match with former teammate David Beckham and the L.A. Galaxy on Sunday in Carson, Calif.
"Truth of the matter, even if [AC Milan] doesn't have Kaka, they are still powerful," said America defender Aquivaldo Mosquera, who joined the team earlier this month after playing last season for Sevilla FC in La Liga. "They are something to be dealt with, of course. We have to take them serious. This is a big game because, in the short term, we need to demonstrate to the people that we can do great things in the future. It will help us grow."
America has won 10 Primera titles -- second only behind rival Chivas Guadalajara (11). However, America hasn't won a championship in four years, and have just two to the trophy case from the last two decades. Since reaching the 2007 Clausura final, the Eagles have slumped, finishing eighth in this season's tournament. America didn't make the playoffs during last year's Apertura season, and finished a league-worst 3-12-2 during the Clausura campaign.
Meanwhile, America is seemingly turning into a coaching graveyard. America President Michel Bauer canned former Argentinian national player Ramon Diaz in February after he started off the Clausura season 1-2-1. In stepped Jesus Ramirez, 52, who coached the Mexican national team in the spring of last year before passing the side along to Sven-Goran Eriksson. The Ramirez hire marked America's fifth coach in just a year.
Daniel Brailovsky, was let go as America's coach last February, after four months on the bench. Ruben Omar Romano replaced him, but got the heave-ho after 10 games. Then came Juan Antonio Luna, who quickly gave way to Diaz.
AC Milan vs. Club America
Georgia Dome, Atlanta
7 p.m. ET, ESPN2, ESPN360.com Friday
AC Milan vs. Chelsea
M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore
8 p.m. ET, ESPN, ESPN360.com Sunday
AC Milan vs. Inter
Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass.
5 p.m. ET, ESPN2, ESPN360.com Chelsea vs. Club America
Cowboys Stadium, Arlington, Texas
7 p.m. ET, ESPN2, ESPN360.com
The passionate, often impatient, America faithful are still waiting for results. However, Rojas already sees a positive change with Ramirez in charge.
"What I like about [Ramirez] is that he knows how to talk to his players, he's very open," said Rojas, who played on America's full team in 2001-02, before moving to San Luis FC in the Primera and returning to his hometown team in '04. "That gives you confidence, on and off the field, that you are able to be his friend. Every coach has a different style, a different idea of how to run their team."
Respectfully, Rojas said his America teammates never adapted to Diaz's system. The player added that it probably didn't help that the club shuffled players in and out of Mexico City. Before blitzing Diaz, America, one of Mexico's richest clubs, spent about $20 million on new acquisitions.
"I'm very happy to be with America," said Mosquera, a Colombian. "I have no doubts. No doubts at all. This is the team I want to play for and I want to have success with. We have a fire to do big things and win Mexican titles."
America took out an Inter team that didn't roll out star striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic until early in the second half and started third-string keeper Vid Belec, 19. Still, the Primera side -- sans star goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa -- played solid defense, and had its share of spirited runs up the pitch.
AC Milan will provide another test for an America team searching its soul for results. EPL heavy hitter Chelsea awaits America in its World Football challenge finale Sunday in Arlington, Texas. Then, it's across the border to Mexico, where Rojas and his teammates hope to bring some results and respectability back to Mexico City.
"That would be incredible, to win match after match, and gain confidence" Rojas said. "It would speak well of the team and, in spite of the last two years, we are going to fight for the fans to get more titles. To return to our winning ways."
Justin Rodriguez covers USL, NCAA and youth soccer for ESPNsoccernet. He is the soccer writer for the Times Herald-Record in Middletown, N.Y., and can be reached at email@example.com.