Victory on rise, warns birthday boy Rojas
Marco Rojas turns 21 today and the classy winger has warned his old team that Melbourne Victory are poised for a coming-out party of their own at Etihad Stadium tonight.
The former Wellington Phoenix star lit up the 2010-11 A-League before being dragged down by the Victory's shambolic 2011-12 campaign.
Although the Victory sit bottom of the ladder after four games, there have been signs that coach Ange Postecoglou's passing game is about to click.
Rojas has two goals already and freely admits he should have doubled that tally in last weekend's 2-1 loss to the Newcastle Jets.
The All White has struck up a promising partnership with Socceroos striker Archie Thompson and, with marquee man Marcos Flores yet to fire, the Victory are the league's sleeping giants.
"You can see in patches of games that we're managing to open up opposition teams," said Rojas, who plans to celebrate his birthday by attending the Melbourne Cup tomorrow - as long as the Victory win.
"So that's the good thing about it, but we've lost three of the four games. So it's not the ideal start but I think if we can turn the patches into full games, then we'll be fine. Finishing let us down last week. We could have been a few goals up in the first half and in control of the game.
"I'm working on that, I need to practise that a lot but the system that we're playing gives Archie and me so much freedom. As you can see the boys are playing some quality balls through to us and it just makes our job so much easier."
Rojas was in and out of the Victory lineup last season but fits perfectly into Postecoglou's gameplan.
Postecoglou's faith in another Kiwi attacking talent, Kosta Barbarouses, while with the Brisbane Roar, led to him now plying his trade for Greek giants Panathinaikos.
Rojas has made no secret of his desire to one day graduate to Europe and is relishing the mentoring from the two-time A-League champion coach.
"It's been good for me. To get the time on the pitch is the most important thing and I've been happy to start every game.
"I love to attack and it suits me because we're all about attacking. He's tough but I'm probably just as tough on myself. He just wants the best for us and that's all we want. He's a good coach and you can't ask for anything more."
Rojas believed Argentine playmaker Flores, who won the Johnny Warren Medal as the league's best player in 2010-11, was "not far away at all".
"Flores is a good player and by the end of the season everyone will see that."
Rojas's departure from Wellington caused huge consternation at the time and the Yellow Fever produced "Judas" banners on his first visit back to Westpac Stadium.
But Rojas has nothing but good things to say about the Phoenix, who have unearthed another Kiwi whiz-kid in Louis Fenton.
"I've always said that they're a good team, people underestimate them unfairly," Rojas said.
"They've always right up there in league position. They've been together for a long time, they know each other's games in and out and you can see that on the pitch.
"They're a good, cohesive unit and they work together well. Fenton's doing really well, I'm happy for him and hopefully it carries on for him - just not this game."
At just 1.66 metres and 68 kilograms, Rojas is one of the smallest players in the league.
And while tonight's game will be controlled by a rookie referee in Shaun Evans, Rojas promised not to pull a "Jeronimo" con job on the Phoenix.
"That's not the way I play. I'm not thinking about that when I'm dribbling through or running towards the ball," Rojas said.
"That's the last thing on my mind. I mean I'm not the biggest but I still want to play a fair game and give it everything I've got and at least try and throw what I've got around. I don't believe in trying to fool the referee."
HOW THEY LINE UP
What: A-League, week five
Where: Etihad Stadium, Melbourne
When: 9.30pm tonight
TV: Live on Sky Sport 3
Referee: Shaun Evans
TAB: Victory $2.25, Phoenix $3, Draw $3.30
Victory (possible): Nathan Coe, Petar Franjic, Matthew Foschini, Adrian Leijer, Adama Traore, Mark Milligan, Jonathan Bru, Gui Finkler, Marcos Flores, Marco Rojas, Archie Thompson. Bench (from): Tando Velaphi, Billy Celeski, Jimmy Jeggo, Theo Markelis, Leigh Broxham, Diogo Ferreira, Sam Gallagher, Isaka Cernak, Andrew Nabbout
Phoenix: Mark Paston, Leo Bertos, Michael Boxall, Andrew Durante, Tony Lochhead, Manny Muscat, Alex Smith, Louis Fenton, Paul Ifill, Jeremy Brockie, Stein Huysegems. Bench: Glen Moss, Vince Lia, Benjamin Totori, Tyler Boyd
The Dominion Post