The visa process for foreign players to come to the United States can sometimes be a pesky one. Some go through with ease, others take a bit longer.
Rafael Robayo’s case is the latter.
Announced as a new Fire player on January 9, Robayo was delayed in joining his teammates for the start of preseason camp 11 days later in Ave Maria, Fla. The Colombian midfielder missed out on all of the first phase of the team’s 16-day stint in southwest Florida and New Orleans but finally completed the visa process earlier this week, joining the team in Ventura, Calif. Wednesday night.
Robayo participated in his first training session as a Fire player Thursday, a month to the day his signing was first announced.
According to him, frustration isn’t the word to describe the wait.
“It wasn’t so much frustration but anxiety,” Robayo told Chicago-Fire.com. “Having to wait for so long to come and join my new teammates was difficult. Now that I’ve trained for the first time, I’m more excited to be here and to have the ability to settle down with the team. I’m looking forward to seeing Chicago and to bringing my family here to start enjoying a new experience.”
Robayo comes to the Fire from Colombian side Millonarios, where he achieved popular status playing in over 200 competitive matches since first joining the side in 2005. Having served as captain for los Embajadores the past two years, the 27-year-old said the decision to leave the club with which he won the 2011 Copa Colombia wasn’t an easy one.
“It’s always hard to leave a team that you’ve spent so long with. I was fortunate enough to be an icon there so it was a hard decision for me but at the same time I felt that it was the right time to make a move not only for me but to give my family a different experience.”
Need reference to his claim about being an icon? Look no further than his Twitter account (R8ROBAYO) to see that he has nearly 40,000 followers, almost double that of his new club.
Familiar with the Fire after the Windy City stints of fellow Colombians, defender Wilman Conde and head coach Juan Carlos Osorio, Robayo joins a squad that is returning all of its starters from the 2011 side that finished 7-2-1 in its last 10 games. His addition to the midfield makes the center of the park a crowded area for head coach Frank Klopas, as he’ll likely compete for time with the likes of Logan Pause, Marco Pappa and Patrick Nyarko for a spot to the right or left of holding midfielder Pavel Pardo this season.
Despite his popularity at home, Robayo has appeared for the Colombian national team just once, coming on as a substitute in a 2-0 friendly win at Venezuela in September 2010. With hopes of playing for los Cafeteros once again, the midfielder signaled to the influx of players in MLS and the recent appointment of new head coach Jose Pekerman for keeping his chance of playing for Colombian open.
“Moving here doesn’t make me give up hope on representing my country again. There are so many Colombians here that the new national team coach [Pekerman] will eventually have to turn and look at the players here. I expect that with a lot of hard work and doing things the right way, a call-up could come again.”