The signing of Rafael Robayo is now official but still very surprising. Most club observers, including myself, assumed that the top priorities for Chicago's 2012 off-season were finding an elite strike partner for Dominic Oduro and a backup fullback for Gonzalo Segares and Dan Gargan. Robayo can not be confused as an option for either of those roles. He is best used in the central midfield, either in attack or in defense. Robayo has an inch and a couple of pounds on Sebastian Grazzini at 6'0, 171 pounds. His thin frame won't allow him to throw too many people around but it should also keep him from losing his step as he adjusts to the harsh physicality of Major League Soccer. The best part of all might be his character. More on that after the break.
Robayo became available when Millonarios could not come to an agreement on a new contract with their 27 year-old captain. Millonarios has been playing well as of late but Robayo has grown out of their price range. The entire club is devastated as Robayo has been a regular with the club since joining in 2005. Millonarios President Eduardo Silva posted a public letter on the team's website last week thanking Robayo for his service to the club and wishing him well in his future endeavors. That is the kind of player I want playing for my favorite team.
Chicago Fire head coach Frank Klopas agrees saying, "Rafael Robayo has an excellent work rate, good defensive energy and will provide support on both sides of the ball... he is a sizable player who can get in and create around the box. He will join our core group in preseason camp as we continue to build toward the 2012 campaign."
A mainstay in the Millonarios lineup, Robayo tallied 187 appearances and 20 goals in league play since joining the Bogota-based side in 2005. The box-to-box midfielder made 11 appearances and scored two goals, including one in the championship series during los Embajadores run to the 2011 Copa Colombia title, the club's first hardware since 1988. Additionally, Robayo helped the side to the semifinals of the 2007 Copa Sudamericana, the best finish in club history. Since early 2010, Robayo served as club captain.
Robayo began his career at the age of 16, attending the Escuela de Futbol Vida in Bogota from 2000-02. From there, he signed his first professional contract with Medellin based Club Atletico Nacional where he made one appearance in 2003 before spending the 2004 season with Once Caldas.
Robayo started out as a defensive midfielder but has added goal scoring to his overall skills in the past two seasons. Of his 25 goals in 226 professional games, 17 of them have come in the last two years. He is coming into his prime at 27 years old. There is a reason Robayo is leaving the club he loves and the club that loves him can no longer afford him. Robayo does not come to the Chicago Fire on a designated player contract though.
In the field, Robayo should be able to take the spot of Pavel Pardo, Logan Pause, Sebastian Grazzini or Marco Pappa. Another veteran midfielder that gives Klopas several options is desperately needed. The team enjoyed great success when they were at full strength but the team looked quite vulnerable when one of the main cogs was out. Klopas did not have the tools he needed to make adequate tactial adjustments in 2011. Robayo changes that. The Colombian midfielder provides a future replacement for Grazzini, Pardo or Pause, all three midfielders that are on the wrong side of 30. The team still needs another striker and a fullback but this looks like quite a coup for the Chicago Fire's front office.
Name: Rafael Fernando Robayo Marroquin
Height: 6'0" (1.84m)
Weight: 171 lbs. (78kg)
Date of Birth: April 24, 1984
Place of Birth: Bogota, Colombia
Hometown: Bogota, Colombia
Last Club: Millonarios F.C. (COL)
Acquired: Signed on January 9, 2012