Overcoming hardship: Joao Rojas shows why Monterrey acquired him

Joao Rojas was acquired by Monterrey in June 2022 and two games into his first season he injured his left knee severely. (Photo by Azael Rodriguez/Getty Images)
Joao Rojas was acquired by Monterrey in June 2022 and two games into his first season he injured his left knee severely. (Photo by Azael Rodriguez/Getty Images) /
Joao rojas monterrey
Joao Rojas (left) and Rogelio Funes Mori of Monterrey celebrate Rojas’ first goal of Monterrey’s game against Mazatlan on Friday, July 14. (Photo by Sergio Mejia/Getty Images) /

In late June 2022, Ecuador international Joao Rojas signed with Monterrey. The then 24-year-old playmaker was expected to provide the Rayados with instant offense as the deep-pocketed Northern Giants took aim at another Liga MX title.

Unfortunately, on July 9 (just two games into his debut season and only 11 days after his official presentation with the Rayados) Rojas tore up his left knee rather badly. The non-contact injury was so serious that he completely missed out on Ecuador’s World Cup qualification campaign (the South Americans did not reach Qatar).

Rojas did not return until the Clausura 2023, seeing spot duty in just four games last season. It was obvious that the knee was still not right, and Rojas saw limited action in the Rayados’ playoff run, totaling a mere 32 minutes in three games.

Heading into the Apertura 2023 – his third season with the club – Rojas had only played in nine games for a total of 135 minutes. The El Guabo, Ecuador, native had 0 goals and 0 assists to his credit.

As summer approached, new Monterrey coach Fernando Ortiz was confident Rojas was ready for a bigger role. The knee was stronger and the midfielder was exhibiting more confidence in training camp. Still, that didn’t translate into more minutes. At least not right away.

The Ecuadorian playmaker saw just 4 minutes of stoppage-time action vs Atlético de San Luis on Opening Night and only 10 minutes more on Matchday 2 against Atlas.

Finally, on Friday night in Mazatlán – one year and one week after the injury – Rojas got a chance to demonstrate that he is ready to contribute. Coach Ortiz sent him on to start the second half and the winger didn’t disappoint.

Six minutes after stepping onto the pitch, Rojas raced onto a loose ball in the top of the box and smashed a left-footer off a Mazatlán defender who was standing on the goal line. The goal put Monterrey up 1-0 in minute 51 and, naturally, Rojas was mobbed by his teammates.

Less than a half-hour later, Rojas was at it again.

Midfielder Omar Govea found Rojas in between lines in the left channel about 5 meters outside the box. Rojas trapped with his left foot, turned his hips slightly and smoothly volleyed a looping right-footer that froze goalie Hugo González.

The ball soared past the helpless keeper into the right side of the net and it was 2-0 Rayados. Another mob scene ensured and it seemed as if the world had been lifted off the young Ecuadorian’s shoulders. Relief was etched on his face.

The brilliant performance will not earn Rojas a starting spot – not by itself, anyway – but it no doubt showed coach Ortiz that the midfielder can be a difference-maker as the Rayados chase their first Liga Mx title since December 2019.

Along with all Liga MX teams, Monterrey will now turn its attention to the Concacaf Leagues Cup which begins later this week. The Rayados face MLS sides Real Salt Lake FC (July 22) and Seattle Sounders (July 26) in the group stage and Rojas should expect to be called upon in those games.

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Should “Los Regiomontanos” advance to the knockout round – and they will be expected to do so – they will begin the march toward a Leagues Cup trophy in early August. Monterrey fans will be hoping that the Joao Rojas they saw shine at “El Kraken” on Friday night will reappear again and again for their beloved Rayados.