By FRANCO PANIZO
Jaime Castrillon is just two weeks into his first MLS season, but you might not be able to tell based on how he has performed so far.
Through the first two weeks of the 2012 campaign, Castrillon has turned in a pair of solid outings en route to helping the Colorado Rapids jump out to an impressive 2-0 start.
The Colombian midfielder put in a strong, 90-minute shift in the season-opening home win versus the Columbus Crew, and followed that up with a big, goal-scoring performance in the 10-man Rapids' road victory over the Philadelphia Union.
All of this while still adjusting to a league that is still fairly new to him.
"'I'm adapting to the league," said Castrillon. "It's a strong league, where you have to be in good shape physically. I am working in the best manner in order to give the team my best and hoping that every day we get the best results."
That the 28-year-old Castrillon is adapting so well so soon after signing from Colombian outfit Independiente Medellin may be a surprise to some. Castrillon signed with the Rapids in late January, and already appears to be well-integrated with his new teammates despite not having had a full preseason to train with them.
For Rapids head coach Oscar Pareja, this is no surprise.
"Jaime is adapting very well due to his personality," said Pareja, a fellow Colombian who spent time with Independiente Medellin during his playing career. "He's comfortable on the ball, he's committed with the game, he always wants it, and the players that are around him, they need that."
In many cases, foreign players need time to adapt to the physical demands of MLS, the off-the-field lifestyle, the weather and more.
Yet here is Castrillon, a technically-gifted midfielder who brings a different dynamic to the Rapids, defying those odds by acclimatizing himself quickly.
"You have to have a certain level of adaptation," said Pareja. "It's a characteristic that not all the players have. You always identify the players with that point of view: Can he adapt? Where has he been? What his personality is? Jaime has done a great job on that part.
"He came and immediately earned the respect of the players. The players like him and that is fantastic. I see on Jaime nothing but hard work and that is well accepted within the team."
If it is as much a mental thing as Pareja claims it to be, it is no wonder that Castrillon is succeeding. The 5-foot-10 midfielder is no stranger to being ways away from home, having played for Chinese club Nanchang Hengyuan F.C. while on loan in 2009.
Still, Castrillon is not entirely unfamiliar with MLS. While on loan with Colombian side Once Caldas during their 2010 championship season, Castrillon was coached by coach Juan Carlos Osorio, who had previously spent time in MLS as a coach of the Chicago Fire and the New York Red Bulls.
Osorio had good things to say about MLS and that may have subconsciously played a part in Castrillon's decision to move to Colorado, where the weather is much different than that of tropical Colombia.
"At first, it was tough due to the cold but that is practically over," said Castrillon, who has represented his country 29 times since 2004. "I saw snow for the first time. It's pretty, but to train it's sometimes difficult due to how cold it is."
Even with the difference in weather, Castrillon says he is happy in his new home and that everyone has been nice to him. Perhaps that has also helped him ease into his transition to the United States, where a long list of his compatriots play or have played.
From current Seattle Sounders striker Fredy Montero to Colombian legend Carlos 'El Pibe' Valderrama (who, like Castrillon, played for the Rapids in his career), Colombians have done notoriously well in MLS, and Castrillon could be the next in a long line of quality players to do so.
"The truth is, there are a lot of Colombians, each adjusting the best way with their respective teams," said Castrillon. "It's important for all of us to do well to leave a good image of our country here and leave the door open for more players."
If that is his goal, Castrillon is off to a flying start.