Marco Rojas embracing new role within the All Whites

The midfielder is embracing his role as a leader ahead of the friendly against Canada.
The midfielder is embracing his role as a leader ahead of the friendly against Canada. Photo credit: Photosport

When Marco Rojas first arrived on the international stage, he was just 19-years-old and used as a second-half substitute in New Zealand's 1-1 draw with China.

He has gone on to become a household name in All Whites squads after that, earning 40 caps and scoring five goals in the process.

But this tour is different - not only is there a new coach and new players, but Rojas finds himself in the unique situation of being one of the most experienced players in the side.

"I appreciate you said 'most experienced' and not 'old'," Rojas, 26, quipped to media.

With a host of names making themselves unavailable for the upcoming fixture against Canada and several others retiring over the past year, Rojas is now the third-most capped player in the side, behind Michael McGlinchey (52) and Jeremy Brockie (50).

But that fact doesn't daunt him - it excites him and it marks a new phase in his footballing career.

"It was always going to happen," he said. "I was always going to get older and get more experienced.

"We have a really young team, and I think it's another good step for me now to help them out and get comfortable in the new All Whites setup."

Rojas has learned from some of the best in the New Zealand programme. His first squad had remnants of that historic 2010 World Cup team - Ryan Nelsen, Chris Killen, Ivan Vicelich, Glen Moss, Mark Paston, Rory Fallon, Winston Reid, Simon Elliot.

He rubbed shoulders with some of our country's best and now it's his turn to teach the current crop what representing your national team means.

"You spend a bit of time with them," Rojas said. "You do what you can to make them as comfortable as possible.

"We're a little bit more experienced being in these situations in regards to football for club and country, and it's just these little things we can offload to some of the younger players coming through."

New All Whites coach Fritz Schmid.
New All Whites coach Fritz Schmid. Photo credit: Photosport

It sounds like Rojas has naturally assumed a leadership role within the side and new coach Fritz Schmid said he was pleased to see the more experienced players taking the lead in the few days they have spent together.

That's a good sign, because with Winston Reid and Chris Wood unavailable, Schmid needs to name a captain.

Is Rojas an option? Sure, but his softly spoken nature might count against him.

"I've always been one to try and let my football do the talking, so that will still be what I'll be hoping to do, but for now, hopefully, I can help these guys too."

As fate would have it, someone who also made their debut on that 2011 tour of China and Japan might be one of the frontrunners.

Michael Boxall was also used as a second-half substitute in that 1-1 draw against China and has plenty of captaincy qualities.

He's a starter, he's vocal, he's a presence and apparently respected among the players. He was even on a media conference call alongside Fritz Schmid on Friday morning.

"We haven't had that vote yet," Schmid said, about who would wear the captain's armband.

Michael McGlinchey has led New Zealand before, while Jeremy Brockie is also a contender. 

The All Whites have had three days of training together so far, where they have focused on what Canada do. They will have a couple more sessions in Spain before the game on Sunday morning (NZT).

With so many uncapped players in the squad - nine in total - Schmid won't be using his first game in charge as an opportunity to give players game time.

"I will always be chasing results."

The match kicks off at 4am NZT.

Canada Soccer will be live streaming the match on their website