Rogers Rising: US Midfielder Dishes on Bradley, Davies, Cup Chances
Playing in his first World Cup qualifier, the nimble winger added an obvious spark to a team trailing by two goals. He hit the cross that led to Michael Bradley's 72nd-minute goal, came close twice to tying the game himself, then delivered the corner kick that Bornstein finished in stoppage time. A key member of this summer's CONCACAF Gold Cup squad and a regular camp participant, Rogers certainly made his case for South Africa when presented with the opportunity.
This weekend, Rogers sat down with FanHouse and offered some interesting insight into a young player's path to the national team, his famous mentor, the Davies accident and the curfew culture that likely played a role.
FANHOUSE: What was it like to be part of those furious final minutes against Costa Rica? What were the emotions?
ROGERS: Something that I definitely won't forget. Definitely. I was just trying to make some sort of impact. When I got on there, I had a lot of energy. I felt like the Costa Ricans were a little tired. I was getting the ball in some dangerous spots. I was happy to bring some energy to the team and it worked out. I was happy to get that goal there at the very end. It was a special night. We won the group and kind of paid tribute to Charlie. I got to wear his number. In the big picture Charlie's okay. I got to see him. There's more to life than just soccer. I'm just happy he's alive. He's recovering and he's doing really well.
FANHOUSE: The team's reaction at the whistle was telling. The result obviously meant a lot to you guys. This was no meaningless game, was it?
ROGERS: After the Honduras game we talked about it and we said, 'Look, we want to get a top seed. We want to do well in the World Cup.' To do that we need to win our group -- it gives us the best possibility of getting a top eight seed. That was part of the motivation.
Also, there's a bunch of winners on that team. No one likes to lose, not in training, not in a game of cards, not anything. You can really tell. I think a lot of teams maybe after going two down would have really just dropped their heads and kind of just forfeit the game, but all the guys fought back until the very end, until the 94th minute I think we scored, and it just kind of showed the character and what the team is all about. It's been like that the whole qualifying cycle. I was just happy to be a part of it. Even though I played in one qualifying game, I was on five rosters. But I was really happy to get a chance to play and change the game when I came in. It was exciting.
FANHOUSE: You've been in camps, as you said, and played a key role on the Gold Cup team. What sort of opportunities are there for less experienced players to break into the national team? Does Bradley give you a fair shot?
ROGERS: Bob watches us in training. You have to work hard in training. You have to be playing well with your club. He gave a chance to me in the Gold Cup...He gives young guys chances. If you're playing well and working hard, he's not afraid to put you on the field. If you earn it, he'll definitely put you on the field. There's no politics involved, nothing like that. He was fair to me. He gave me that chance and hopefully I'll get more chances. If not I'll keep working and doing the same things.
FANHOUSE: You went to Europe [Dutch club Heerenveen, where Michael Bradley started] in 2006 but it didn't work out. Did you see the Crew as a step down? Do you think it's added or detracted from your career?
ROGERS: To tell you the truth, I didn't really know what to expect. When I first got there, I didn't know if I was going to be traded or if they wanted to keep me. I knew they had a lot of guys in my position. But I had a long history with Sigi [Schmid, then Columbus coach], so I knew he might want to keep hold of me. I knew him out in California and his son played on my club team, so we've known each other for a long time. Sigi really helped me find my game and helped me grow up, especially last year, and helped me develop into a midfielder that hopefully can play more with the national team.
Bobby's [current coach Robert Warzycha] helped me a lot as well. These guys also, Guille [Barros Schelotto], and some of the other guys like Frankie [Hejduk] and all these guys really help me out on the field. I was really lucky to be put with this group and I think you need a little luck in your career if you really want to make it farther and be a good professional.
FANHOUSE: David Beckham's opinion that he must play in Europe to prepare for the World Cup raises the question though, can MLS put you where you feel you need to be to take the next step with the national team?
ROGERS: I think this is a good stepping stone for me. Columbus Crew, like I said, I was lucky to be put with this kind of organization, with this group of guys. They've really helped me. I don't know if I can say the same thing for every club because I've only played here. But I can definitely say this club has helped me.
I still want to go back to Europe and try to further my career and play for a bigger club. I think at one point in my career I'm going to have to do that if I really want to step into the national team and be a solid contributor. But you can still look at guys like Landon, Stuey [Holden] has been starting the past few games, Jonathan Bornstein, who scored the game winner, is also in MLS. There's definitely a place for those guys. Just, I think there are more guys playing in Europe that are on the national team and those are the guys who are playing for their clubs.
FANHOUSE: But the key factor is that they play.
ROGERS: They play, exactly. That's the most important thing, that you're playing in games. If you just go to a club in Europe and sit on the bench or sit in the stands, I mean, there's no point.
FANHOUSE: So you think you have a realistic shot at playing in South Africa next summer?
ROGERS: That's definitely one of my goals. I definitely think I have a shot. I'm confident I can get on that roster. Of course I need a little luck and be playing really well, but I think there's a chance. To go to a World Cup, just the possibility to be on the roster, you know, is pretty ridiculous. So I'm keeping my fingers crossed and I know that maybe it can happen. But I won't get my head down if it doesn't happen either.
FANHOUSE: You spent time with Juergen Klinsmann while growing up in California. What impact did that have on your development?
ROGERS: In Huntington Beach I played some PDL and some men's league with him. He played under a fake name. He didn't want media and other people coming out. He just would teach me little things on the field, talk to me off the field, talk to my family about what he thought maybe would be a good way for me to develop as a young player, as a young professional. Just gave me different ideas about soccer.
I remember him always telling me that the only time that you're really going to be playing well is when you're happy. I went to Holland and I wasn't happy and I wasn't playing the way I want to be playing. That for sure, happened. Just when I watched him play. He was always moving and always running. He was never stagnant, always playing quickly. I definitely learned from him just playing beach soccer and pick-up games. He was definitely someone I watched when I didn't know him, and then when I got to know him he was a great person as well, a great role model. He really helped me.
FANHOUSE: And he was the guy that everyone thought should take over the national team after Bruce Arena resigned in 2006.
ROGERS: Juergen I think was pretty close to taking the job, then he went over to Germany [Bayern Munich] and everything. Bob's done a great job. A lot of people aren't giving him as much credit as they should.
FANHOUSE: Why is Bradley the right coach for this team?
ROGERS: There's a lot of things. I think he's great at giving young players a chance. I think he's good at building a team that's strong on and off the field, that has a winning mentality. He knows it's important to have structure off the field as well as on the field. He's good tactically. He's a strong individual in that he doesn't really care what people think, and he's a good person as well. I think there's just so many things that contribute to his success and the success of his teams. He's really helped me this past year and I'm looking forward to every camp I go to and even look forward to just training. I think he's a good coach.
FANHOUSE: And the criticism? Is any of it valid?
ROGERS: I don't really look at that kind of stuff, but when you see like titles, you're like, "Oh, this is nonsense."
FANHOUSE: Bradley talks so much about the responsibility, commitment and sense of community he wants from those of you on the national team. The Davies accident must have hit him pretty hard. While Davies certainly didn't deserve what happened, he was out at 3 AM.
ROGERS: It sucks because we already qualified, so I'm sure a lot of guys kinda wanted to celebrate qualifying. We did have curfew, I think 12 o'clock. It's not uncommon for guys to sometimes miss curfew a little bit after you've already qualified or you're celebrating a win or whatever. I know Bob feels bad about it. Everyone feels bad about it. It just shows you how fragile life is. You look at that kind of stuff and you read about that kind of stuff on the internet or you hear it on TV or whatever, and you never really think it's going to be someone you know.
FANHOUSE: Has it changed you?
ROGERS: Yeah, for sure. When I talk to my friends now and they say, "Oh, we're going to go out," I'm like, "All right, well make sure you're careful."
[Davies] is a great guy, a great person, a great friend and a great player, so I feel really bad for him. But, he'll be back. He's got great character. He'll work hard to get back to where he was and he'll have another World Cup to fight for....He's a great kid and everyone really needs to kind of learn from it.