This player report is part of a new series. In this series, I will take a look at each country in South America and choose four players to write a player report on. The aim is to cover all ten countries in South America. The players that will be chosen are not necessarily the biggest talents of the country. Ecuador is the first country that will be discussed. In the first part, I will write a player report on Emelec player Joao Rojas.
Joao Rojas is a 23-year-old left winger who has recently played a lot of matches as an attacking midfielder as well. He got picked up by the youth academy of El Nacional early in his life and did well there, considering that Ecuador’s greatest youth academy, Independiente del Valle, picked him up in 2011 when Rojas was fourteen years old. He would play there until 2015 when he moved to SD Aucas. It is not known whether he needed to leave Independiente del Valle or if it was his own choice.
He made his debut for SD Aucas in the Serie A in 2015 and conquered a place in the starting line-up for Aucas at the age of 18, playing twenty matches for the Ecuadorian outfit in the Segunda Etapa of the Serie A, scoring three and assisting three goals as well. He would only score four goals and assist eight goals for Aucas in 2016 and eventually moved to Emelec in 2017 on loan where he would struggle to get a place in the starting line-up, but Emelec did decide to buy him after one season.
In his first year at Emelec, Joao Rojas only played seven games and he scored two goals. He would conquer a place in the starting line-up in the Segunda Etapa of the Serie A and would play a total of 34 matches in 2018. He only scored three goals and gave three assists in these matches. He remained a starter in the 2019 and 2020 season and would improve his goal-scoring record. In these two seasons, he has a total of eight goals and thirteen assists in 56 matches.
2019 was his most successful season so far and he even made two appearances for the Ecuadorian national team that year. Joao Rojas has been stuck playing in Ecuador for six years now and it’s time to make a move abroad now.
Emelec always set up in a 4-2-3-1 and like to build it out from the back. They are very confident in doing so in the Ecuadorian league and hardly choose to play long balls towards the striker, often Barcelo or Ordonez. In the Copa Sudamericana they played the long ball more often and this sometimes led to the frustration of Joao Rojas. Out of possession, Emelec normally try to keep a 4-4-2 formation going with the attacking midfielder playing next to the striker out of possession. The attacking midfielder is allowed to roam around the pitch and is the playmaker of the team, especially when Joao Rojas plays as the attacking midfielder.
Rojas often drops deep when playing as an attacking midfielder and opens up passing lanes for one of the two central midfielders, often Sebastian Rodriguez who also has good ball-playing ability, which allows Emelec to progress higher up the pitch. The other players of Emelec seem to know that Joao Rojas has an excellent first touch and that he scans a lot. They often play passes to him when he is already being put under pressure and Joao Rojas can hold off his opponent very well using his good physical ability. It must be said that Joao Rojas is only 1,72m tall, but he is very strong on the ball and hardly ever gets pushed off the ball by his opponent.
When the ball progress further up the pitch, Joao Rojas likes to keep playing as a playmaker and he often switches side depending on where the ball is. For example, when Bryan Carabali is in possession of the ball on the right wing, Joao Rojas would move to the half-space on the right and demand the ball from Carabali. Joao Rojas often gets into a position like this, but he refrains from taking a progressive touch in these situations and often chooses to put his body between the ball and his opponent to eventually playing a sideways pass. Later in this article, I will dive deeper into why Joao Rojas does not score or give an assist that often but this is one reason of it.
As an attacking midfielder, Joao Rojas is also tasked to arrive late into the box and provide an extra passing/crossing option for the wingers or full-backs. As he is only 1,72m tall, he will not win many aerial duels which is reflected in his stats as he wins only 41,67% of his 1,25 aerial duels per 90 minutes. This is not even that bad considering his height, but he will not score many goals through the air which means that he needs to think of other solutions. One of those solutions is to arrive late into the box. Joao Rojas has a good eye for space which you will see later in this article as well. In the image down below, it is seen that Joao Rojas makes a run towards the edge of the box when Bryan Cabezas is on the ball. He cuts away from his opponent and passes it towards the edge of the box to Joao Rojas, who misses the shot as he can’t connect with the ball properly.
Out of possession, Joao Rojas needs to put pressure as the second striker next to either Barcelo or Ordonez. He is active in trying to cut passing lanes when he sees danger or when his opponent is in space. Rojas can be very aggressively trying to get the ball of the opponent but can sometimes try to anticipate where his opponent will move which can lead to him being dribbled past by his opponent. He only has 5,61 successful defensive actions per 90 minutes and these mainly come from when he plays as a left winger, where he does well to track the runs of his opponent and is capable of intercepting passes before protecting the ball well using his body smartly. Rojas does not panic when he is near his own byline while being put under pressure and always keeps in possession in these situations.
Speaking about playing as a left winger, the following paragraphs will be about Joao Rojas’s positioning when he plays as a left winger. Joao Rojas has a good positional sense when playing as a left winger and gets into really good positions but does not get found often. Both Jackson Rodriguez and Oscar Bagui often do not spot Rojas in space which is seemingly frustrating for Rojas who often reacts frustrated when he does not get the ball.
First of all, there is a situation where Joao Rojas drops deep while sticking close to the sideline. He opens up a passing lane for the left-back, often Jackson Rodriguez or Oscar Bagui, which can be very effective when Emelec are being put under pressure. When Rojas is playing as a left winger, it often happens that the attacking midfielder (Cevallos) is not that active in the build-up as Rojas is. This means that Rojas either needs to take on his opponent or pass it backwards to Bagui again, which does not help Emelec progressing the ball further up the pitch as Rojas does not have any passing options. Also, dropping deeper attracts the right-back to follow Rojas which opens up space on the left wing but there is no-one to dive into that gap.
Joao Rojas likes to tuck inside when either Oscar Bagui or Jackson Hernandez is carrying the ball forward while sticking close to the sideline. He does very well to move into space when this happens but does not always get found. This is the case in both deeper areas and the final third. Both the left-backs are not the best passers and sometimes do not spot Rojas in space. For example, in the image down below, Oscar Bagui tries to find Rojas but he gets his pass wrong and the pass is intercepted. When Rojas would receive the ball in this situation, he would be in a 2v2 situation together with Barcelo if he would make a good first touch.
The Ecuadorian international has a very good first touch under pressure and is capable of protecting the ball. Joao Rojas has good vision and dribbling ability which could help him get past his opponent in these situations. I think that he could get more assists and goals when he would receive passes in these areas.
Joao Rojas is not only dropping deep throughout matches, as he is also capable of spotting space in behind and making runs in behind. He has decent acceleration and has okay pace but is definitely not a typical pacey winger. When he receives the ball on the wings, he often cuts away from his opponent a few times before crossing it into the box. His crosses with his right foot often get into good areas but the technique on his left foot is not great which is not ideal when he tries to cross it into the box. I would say that he needs to improve on his left foot which is quite important for his development. Joao Rojas makes 3,63 dribbles per 90 minutes and completes 60% of them. However, he should sometimes be quicker with making his actions on the wing.
There is one last situation that I want to highlight when speaking about Joao Rojas’s positioning before I move on to his strengths and weaknesses which I already spoke briefly about earlier in the report. Joao Rojas wants to receive the ball often and likes to come short and drop deep to get some touches on the ball. He usually just plays sideways passes when dropping deep but occasionally plays some good vertical passes. However, as I will mention later in the report, he should be more progressive in his passing and movements.
Joao Rojas is, as mentioned earlier, good at spotting space between the lines and is always available as a passing option. He moves between the lines often when playing as an attacking midfielder, but is also able to do so when playing as a left winger. As an attacking midfielder, he is often able to receive the pass without defenders around him which helps him to move forward. The Ecuadorian international chooses to play a first time pass back to the teammate that passed to him a lot as well. Without the ball, he is very active and shows good movement as you can see in the image down below.
It is seen that the Sebastian Fernandez has played the pass into Dixon Arroyo. Joao Rojas immediately sees that he needs to open up a passing lane for Dixon Arroyo and dives into the gap between the two CA Union players. He is constantly doing this and always opens up passing lanes for his teammate at the right times. This is really helpful for Emelec as it helps Emelec to progress further up the pitch and get into the attack quicker.
Joao Rojas is very press-resistant and has different tactics to evade pressure. At first, he has great ball control and a good first touch which allows him to play first time passes back to his teammate. Secondly, he has good close control in the tight spaces that comes to use when he has several players who put pressure on him which essentially means that he can’t protect the ball with his body. This is something that he can do very well when he is being put under pressure by only one opponent, despite being only 1,72m tall he is very strong on the ball and does not get pushed off the ball easily. Joao Rojas scans often and is smart on the ball, which really could be seen against CA Union in the later stages of the match when defending a 2-1 lead on aggregate. He protected the ball well and was smart in getting corners and throw-ins.
The Ecuadorian prospect is a quick thinker and has a good handling speed. When he receives the ball, he scans before receiving and already knows where to pass the ball to before he has touched the ball. Joao Rojas is capable of playing good through passes towards the wing. Also, as mentioned earlier, he is capable of arriving late into the box to get into scoring position, which is illustrated with his 0,27 xG per 90 minutes. However, his biggest weakness is his finishing and shooting ability. He has wasted a lot of chances this season which he shouldn’t have to do as his kicking technique on his right foot is good. I think that when he gains some confidence and works on his shooting, this could get improved a lot which would immediately make him a better player.
Looking at his assists and xA, he only has 0.11 expected assists per 90 minutes. He has good vision, but does not get found in his favored positions often, which is definitely the half-space on the left. This can be seen in the fourth image, where Oscar Bagui does not find him when he is in space. It can not be said that he does not spot his teammates in space, but he often does not get found in good situations. It must be said though that in a more central position, he can refrain from taking progressive touches and I think that he should be more aggressive in attempting progressive runs. For example, he only makes 1,25 progressive runs per 90 minutes and 4,26 progressive passes per 90 minutes.
In the video down below, it can be seen that Joao Rojas plays a first time pass back to his teammate who gave the pass, while he could have taken a progressive touch and drive aggressively into a lot of space. Joao Rojas has the technique, acceleration and vision to do this more often and should definitely do this more often to possibly create more chances. He can take on opponents in a central zone as well.
What’s next for Joao Rojas?
In conclusion, Joao Rojas is a player who is versatile as he can play well at left wing, but also as an attacking midfielder. I think that he would be at best when he can play in a free role on the left, being allowed to tuck inside and having an attacking-minded left-back behind him who is a good passer. I think that he would fit well in the Dutch Eredivisie in a team that plays possession-based football with the above mentioned requirements. He would only cost around €1M, but I’d only make the transfer if he has an EU-passport since it would be a gamble to sign an Ecuadorian player that has never proved himself outside the Ecuadorian league. However, the performances in the continental cups in South America were very hopeful and I think that he could be a good long-term signing for a team between 3rd and 6th place in the Eredivisie if he does have the EU passport that I spoke about earlier.