Alejandro Moreno was traded from Houston to Columbus a mere two months ago, so I thought it might be fun to introduce the Venezuelan striker to El Arepazo, the city's foremost purveyor of Venezuelan cuisine. Moreno met me at the Downtown eatery last week after training to discuss his move to Columbus, his unusual route to the Venezuelan national team, the perception of Major League Soccer in his home country and the secret ingredient for preparing black beans just right.

I turned the conversation into a feature that ran in the paper today, but after the jump, loyal blog readers, is a transcript of the full interview.

Alejandro Moreno was traded from Houston to Columbus a mere two months ago, so I thought it might be fun to introduce the Venezuelan striker to El Arepazo, the cityís foremost purveyor of Venezuelan cuisine. Moreno met me at the Downtown eatery last week after training to discuss his move to Columbus, his unusual route to the Venezuelan national team, the perception of Major League Soccer in his home country and the secret ingredient for preparing black beans just right.

I turned the conversation into a feature that ran in the paper today, but after the jump, loyal blog readers, is a transcript of the full interview.

What was your reaction when you heard you were going to come to Columbus? Did you have any preconceptions about the city?

No, not at all. It was more of a concern about my family. I have a wife and a little guy, and we had a comfortable situation in Houston where we had a house and she had a nice job, and he was in school there, so we were comfortable there. But itís part of our job, and itís part of our profession to retrace our reality of what we do. And so in coming to Columbus, Iíd only been here to play here. Weíd come in and out. Weíd come on a Friday and leave on a Sunday, and we donít really get to see the city. So I didnít really know what to expect. But it seemed like a nice enough place, and certainly after a couple months that Iíve been here we like it here. We have a house, and weíre settled in pretty well, and weíre pretty comfortable.

Were you surprised about anything in Columbus?

I didnít know how big or how small the city is, but for us the size is perfect. Itís not too bigóitís not overwhelmingly big. And itís certainly not that small. Thereís no traffic to speak of, at least from my perspective anyway. Iíve heard people that complain about the traffic, and coming from bigger cities like Los Angeles and Houston, itís actually very nice that your commute doesnít take any longer than 30 minutes. Iím pretty happy about that. I think itís a nice place with character, and older place, but one that there are certainly a lot of places around the city that have a lot of character or have something unique about them.

I didnít realize until I was reading your bio that you had played college soccer in the US. How did you decide to leave Venezuela and come to college here?

It was an opportunity that came about, and it really opened the doors to me to continue to further my soccer career and at the same time get a quality education. To be quite honest with you, the main goal for me was to get an education, and as time went by in college and I realized that Major League Soccer was a real possibility and my parents realized that it was a real possibility, then we went after it pretty passionately. And really, things went step by step. As I kept playing well in college and interest kept growing in Major League Soccer, I felt that it was a real possibility for me.

Iím not that familiar with the college game. Is it fairly common for foreign players to enter the college game?

I think itís fairly common in that you get the opportunity to continue to pursue your soccer career as well as to get an education. In Venezuela, for example, you get to a point where you have to choose. Either you go after your dreams of becoming a professional soccer player or you choose to go the route of education and whatever else. I think the NCAA does a good job, not only in college soccer but many other sports, where you continue to play at a competitive level, continue to develop, and at the same time you pursue a career and education. The reality is that most of us donít become professional athletes, and only a few of us are fortunate enough to get this opportunity. But for those four years, you get an education and then you play soccer, and you really think if those are the last four years youíre going to play soccer competitively, then you want to make the most of it.

Was that your mindset coming in, that college would probably be the end of the line for your playing career?

I mean, by the time I came into college, MLS soccer had been around for three or four years. I thought it was a possibility and certainly something you dreamed that may happen in the future, but to be quite honest, you sort of worry about whatís going on with your team at school and whatís going on with your schoolwork. Once the idea of perhaps becoming a professional soccer player becomes something you can touch, then you get more interested in it. But up until that time, you think itís a possibility, but youíre not really thinking about it too much unless itís something that is really serious.

At this point youíve made some appearances with your national team. I would imagine yours is not the route most people take to get to the Venezuelan national team.

No, not at all. And I think in some ways it makes it a little bit more difficult for me because a lot of guys that are with the national team, theyíve played together in youth national teams, theyíve played against each other at many different levels, and theyíve played against each other in the Venezuelan league. They certainly know of each other, and theyíre contemporary with each other, while from my perspective Iíve sort of been an outsider if you know what I mean. Iíve sort of come the long way around to the national team. Iíve made my career here, and because of my success here Iíve attracted the attention of the national team in Venezuela. So itís kind of difficult to make the transition and go back to Venezuela because really people donít know much about you and donít know you well enough to understand that, ďHey, maybe this guy plays a little bit, and maybe he can do some good things on the field.Ē

What impression do players from Venezuela have of MLS?

From what I have gathered in talking to other people with the national team, theyíre skeptical about the level of play in Major League Soccer, but yet if you put a contract in front of them and the real possibility of coming to play in the US, they would sign it right away. I think there are things that Major League Soccer does much better than many leagues in South America, if not better than most leagues in South America. The organization, obviously, is much better. The infrastructure, stadiums, logistical issues such as traveling I think is done much better, in a much more responsible way. But I think that has a lot to do with the culture of the way things are done here and the way things are done in South America. To be quite honest, I believe this league has grown exponentially over the last four or five years, and interestingly enough, I feel that my career has grown exponentially over that same period of time. So I feel that Iíve grown with the league. I came into the league on draft day in 2002, and where we are now as to where we were then, I think the league has jumped in leaps and bounds in terms of positive growth. And I think my career as well has shown that to where Iíve grown also in a positive manner.

Do you think the signing of somebody like Guillermo Barros Schelotto is something that legitimizes the league for people?

I think it gives the league credibility, and it puts our league in different markets other than the US because now you are broadcasting games internationally, and news and notes of what happens in this league becomes international news. Signings like Guillermo, like Beckham, I think they can only help because they just bring more attention to the league. Itís now up to us, those of us that are part of this league, to present our product in such a way that now it becomes more appealing to most people. We want people to come to the games, but we also want them to come back to the games. Thatís the trick, and that really depends on the product that we put on the field. If people are excited about what weíre doing, and theyíre excited about the results that weíre producing on the field, theyíll come back. And thatís part of the growth of US soccer as a whole.

Speaking of putting a good product on the field, since you got traded to Columbus, the Crewís been playing much better. What do you think has been the cause of the turnaround as far as finally getting results?

Obviously there is an element of good fortune in specific situations in the game, but overall I believe the team now understands that we are capable of doing good things on the field. The fact that weíve gotten a couple good results gives the team confidence and understanding that, Hey, we are capable of not only putting a good product on the field, but weíre capable of achieving some things in our conference and getting positive results consistently. I think that has a lot to do with the personality of some of the guys that have taken leadership roles within the teams.

So what do you think of the food so far? Is it authentic?

Yeah, itís pretty good. The shredded beef is pretty tasty. I love black beans. I usually put sugar in my black beans, but thatís a personal thing. And itís certainly a change from what I eat on a daily basis around here. Itís good to know that thereís a Venezuelan restaurant around. But itís pretty goodóI like that the shredded beef is nice and moist and nice and flavorful.

I imagine there were probably Venezuelan restaurants in the other cities you played in.

There was one in Houston, and I went there often enough. It wasnít close to my house, but I made an effort to go there every once in a while just to get back to the things I like to do and I like to eat. It also helps that my wife likes this kind of food. Sheís from North Carolina, but she likes this kind of food, so itís not an imposition.

Alive photographer Will Shilling chimes in: Coach let you eat that many carbs?

After practice, yeah. Gotta recover! I donít know about the fried carbsÖ Yeah, my wife loves these (plantains). We call them plŠtanos.

Those are in my favorite dish here, patacůn.

Thatís actually the Columbian name for that dish. In Venezuela we call it tostůn. And the plŠtanos, I usually eat them with white cheese. We eat a lot of cheese in Venezuela as well.

When you first left Venezuela and came to North Carolina for college, what food did you miss the most?

You know, itís not that I miss this sort of stuff. I like it, and when I eat it, I really enjoy it. But when I came here, it was sort of, kind of flicking the switch, you know? Things were going to be different, and I wasnít going to have the things that Iíve had around my whole life, and you just kind of go with it. Of course, if you have the opportunity to eat this kind of stuff then youíre pretty excited about it. But I wouldnít say I miss a lot of things. Obviously you miss your family, and you miss having meals with your family, and obviously those meals would be this sort of stuff.

So itís more that you miss eating an arepa with your family than you actually miss eating arepas?

Correct. Now, thereís Venezuelan people that an arepa is a staple of their meal; they would do anything to have an arepa. Itís actually not that difficult, but you gotta have the right kind of flour. Thatís the difficult part, finding the flour. They had it in Houston. I looked for it over here.

Have you checked the Latin groceries and stuff?

I havenít investigated it that much. But in Houston, for example, you go into the Wal-Mart Super Center, go into the Latin section and youíll find it. You canít go into the regular Kroger grocery storeóthatís a waste of time there. Theyíll have the Mexican kind of flour, maseca or whatever, and itís not the same. But thatís another misnomer is that people think all Spanish speakers eat Mexican food or that we eat some variation of Mexican food, and we donít. There are Mexican food restaurants in Venezuela. Thatís not part of our diet.

So what part of town are you living in?

Lewis Center, north of 270, right by 23. Close to the Polaris Mall.

How did you decide to move up there?

For one, I live sort of the family life kind of thing, so I wanted a place that was kind of away from Downtown and had a yard and that sort of stuff. Iím more of a suburbs sort of guy anyway. And to be quite honest with you, when I go home from training or from the games or I come back from a trip after having played a game on a Saturday or whatever, I want to get away. I want to spend time with my family and really maximize that as much as I can and do our own thing. And then once itís time to concentrate again and focus on socceróso you can immerse yourself in both things 100 percent.

I was always surprised how many Crew players live north of town when Obetz is so far south. It seems like it would be such a commute, but I guess with the lack of traffic itís not a problem.

With the lack of traffic, Iím like, 30 minutes Iím in Obetz. I canít stand traffic. Thatís why I couldnít stand it in LA. Itís crazyÖ You like the dinner, eh? Have some of the arepa, man. (We split the arepa, me eating with knife and fork, him eating it like a sandwich) This is the make or break right hereÖ

Oh, youíre supposed to eat it more like a sandwich?

Yeah, youíre supposed to eat it with your hands. Now, this is more a tostada. There are ways to fix the arepa, and this is more of a tostada style. But it has nothing to do with a Mexican tostada. I think what they do with this is they put it on the griddle, and somehow they just kind of put some weight on it, one side and then the other side. Itís still very goodÖ The arepa is actually part of the pabellůn, the main Venezuelan dish. See how Mexican people always have their meal, and they have tortillas on the side? Well, we have our meal, and arepas are part of that meal as well. Whatever meal youíre having, you have an arepa laying around, you just open it up and stuff that in there.