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O brother where art thou?

As the door swings open at a shopping mall Starbucks in Secaucus, New Jersey, a smattering of business types glance up at the tracksuited young man in a baseball cap as he takes in the room.

By the time he sits down opposite me all eyes have returned to their newspapers and laptops. In these parts John Rooney could be anybody, and it affords the slim-faced 20-year-old the kind of freedoms he could never enjoy in England.

Rooney is the youngest of three brothers raised in working-class Croxteth, Liverpool. All three were gifted footballers, and all achieved local fame by representing their beloved Everton at youth level.

But it was the oldest, Wayne, who put their family on the map. The Manchester United and England striker was billed as the most natural talent of his generation, and has gone on achieve the kind of stardom that would make a one-to-one interview like this a complex, military operation.

Wayne's come a long way from the backstreets of Merseyside, but then again so has his kid brother John - who these days finds himself 3,500 miles away from home and making a living with the New York Red Bulls in the MLS.

After two years at League Two Macclesfield, Rooney decided to chase the American dream. Trials with the Seattle Sounders and Portland Timbers went well enough to earn him a spot in the 2011 MLS Superdraft, where the Red Bulls picked him up in the second round. It was quite a week.

"You go to the draft, and you're split into four teams," Rooney says, his soft, accented Liverpudlian tones an uncanny match to those of his brother we know so well. "Over five days you play each other. All the MLS coaches watch the games and then they decide who they want to pick.

"In the draft, you're in this room, sitting there and you don't really have an idea of how things will turn out. Then they just shout you out. It was really interesting, I've never experienced anything like it. I was delighted to be picked by the Red Bulls and couldn't have asked for anything better than that."

It was the start of a bold new chapter for Rooney junior, who would be visiting New York for the first time and had learnt most of what he knew about the MLS from watching games on television in England.

Of course, the Red Bulls are not in New York at all – but across the water from Manhattan at their shiny new Red Bull Arena in Hudson, New Jersey. Rooney shares an apartment with two team-mates nearby, in shooting distance of their training ground at Montclair University.

And six months in, he appears to be relishing the adventure.

"I've settled in really well. I thought it was going to harder, but the team made me feel really welcome. They're a great bunch of lads," Rooney says. "The banter between the lads is just the same as it was in England.

''And the training facilities and the stadium are unbelievable. The stadium is so compact, and the fans are really close to the pitch. Compared to some of the facilities in the lower leagues in England, over here everything is perfect."

Rooney describes himself as a strong passer who likes to "get on the ball and create things". Like his brother he's a fiercely committed player who's not shy of a tackle. If there's a weakness to his game, the 5' 10" midfielder would cite his heading. "I'm not the biggest, so definitely could work on that," he says.

When Rooney joined the Red Bulls in January this year the club's general director, Erik Soler, stressed the long-term nature of the deal, along with the benefits to the player of being removed from a life by association - a life in Wayne's world.

"We think for him to come to New York and to get away from the obvious huge shadow that you're under when you're brother is Wayne Rooney is good for him," Soler said. "We believe we did a good thing there. We think he will be producing something for us - if not in the first or second year, but in the longer future."

Rooney might miss his family, but he certainly doesn't miss having to talk about his brother all the time. As an MLS player he's found journalists far more interested in what's happening in his career than they were in England. It's made for a refreshing change.

"In the US the press have been really good," he says. "Every time I speak to the media it's always about me - how I'm doing, how I'm getting on. Whereas in England is usually more about Wayne."

When it comes to his own shot at glory, Rooney has yet to make the impact he was hoping to this season. He featured in a pre-season game, but thus far has only racked up one substitute appearance in the 2011 MLS proper.

"I just need to keep working hard in training and in reserve team games," Rooney says. "We've got some fantastic players - internationals, players who've played in the Premier League. But I'm confident if I get the chance I can show the coach he can rely on me."

The player who most associate with the Red Bulls these days is Thierry Henry, and Rooney has relished the opportunity to work alongside the French World Cup winner.

"He's given me advice on all kinds of stuff," Rooney says. "Training with the likes of Henry every day you're only going to improve. He trains properly and that's why he's been at the highest level in his career."

As for advice from his big brother, Rooney says Wayne kept it brief.

"When I left he told me to work hard and get my head down, that's all. I'm my own man and I'm out here doing this my way," he says.

And with that John Rooney slips unnoticed into the shopping mall to go about his everyday business. It's a far cry from the life of his big brother, but perhaps it's exactly what he needed to realise his ultimate potential.

From Merseyside to Manhattan and, who knows, maybe back again someday.

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