Technically, midfielder Marlon Rojas was with Real Salt Lake when the soccer team played its inaugural game last weekend. But his legs? Maybe not so much.
Rojas had a hard time playing his best in the RSL opener against the MetroStars, after running the full 90 minutes for his Trinidad & Tobago national team in a World Cup qualifying match three days before the game, then traveling some 4,000 miles from Guatemala - through Trinidad, in the Caribbean Sea - to meet RSL in New Jersey.
"You just have to deal with it," he said, "because it comes with the sport." Happily, in fact.
While Rojas expects to be fresher when RSL plays at the Los Angeles Galaxy on Saturday night, it's not as if he would rather give up the experience of trying to help his homeland qualify for the 2006 World Cup. That's a benefit the players generally cherish, even though allowing players to take leaves in order to play for their national teams can be a challenge for every team in Major League Soccer.
"It's the World Cup," teammate Eddie Pope said. "That's what everybody wants to do. You want to play on a World Cup team."
RSL's Dipsy Selolwane also played the MetroStars after playing for his Botswanian national team a week before the MLS opener, but it was Rojas whom coach John Ellinger sensed was wearing down the most in the savage weather at Giants Stadium. He substituted for Rojas in the second half, and expects the relative rest he's getting this week will make a big difference against the Galaxy at the Home Depot Center.
"We think that's a huge plus for Marlon," Ellinger said. "Marlon can obviously show, we think, a lot more going forward than he showed in New York."
Not only have Rojas and Selolwane missed time from their MLS clubs, but teammates Clint Mathis, Eddie Pope, Jason Kreis and Brian Dunseth all have represented the U.S. national team at various times, while midfielder Andy Williams plays for the Jamaican national team.
Only the Americans in that group figure to reach the World Cup, however.
Trinidad & Tobago and Botswana are near the bottom of their qualifying groups and probably will not advance - Trinidad played a scoreless draw with Costa Rica in its latest game and then fired its coach, and Botswana lost 1-0 to Kenya - while Jamaica already has been eliminated.
Still, the opportunity to play against a higher caliber of competition is invaluable to the players.
"It's always good," Pope said. "There's always something about being gone, and trying to get back into the swing of things with your team. But anytime you leave and go play at a higher level, it's a good thing. It makes you better as a player when you come back. It's going to make training better, it's going to make your teammates better around you. It's a bonus."
The bonus for RSL is that Rojas will be at full speed against the Galaxy, after barely touching the ball after halftime against the MetroStars in part because the strong wind kept pushing the ball away from him.
"Still, you're wearing yourself out running up and running back," Ellinger said. "Defensively, he did what we wanted him to do. We just want to try to get him a little more offense."