BRIAN SCIARETTA - Friday, June 3, 2011
While his call-up to the US Gold Cup team took many by surprise, Robbie Rogers is hoping to provide an offensive threat to the team as they look to reclaim their regional crown.
Rogers, 24, has long been battling to break into Bob Bradley's plans as a regular with the senior team but he has frequently found himself narrowly missing out.
His last appearance for the US national team was in 2010 when he played in a friendly against the Czech Republic less than a week before the World Cup team headed for South Africa. At that point in time, Bradley still had 30 players on the roster that he needed to trim down to 23 following that game. Shortly after the game Rogers found out he was one of the seven players that were cut.
Now 12 months later, that personal setback is serving as a great source of motivation for Rogers as he looks to step up and become a key figure for the team.
"It was heartbreaking finding out after the Czech Republic game that I wasn't traveling to South Africa," Rogers told YA. "It gave me a goal in striving forward - to play in a World Cup in Brazil. I'm really going to be pushing myself. When you get to a national team, you get a taste of the level of the highest stage for a professional soccer player. The games are so important that it really motivated me to get back to that spot. I'm happy and excited to be on this team."
The 2011 Gold Cup will be Rogers' second as he was also on the 2009 team that was easily beaten by Mexico in the finals 5-0. That team featured many new and untested Americans and their inexperience showed in the final game. Despite the loss, Rogers said the experience helped him.
"I played in the last Gold Cup and it was a great experience," Rogers recalled. "We didn't finish the tournament off the way we wanted to but we still learned a lot. I'm really excited to get back to those type of games. Hopefully we can perform well and assert ourselves well."
Rogers insists that he is a different player now than he was in the last Gold Cup. He is confident that he learned a lot about becoming a complete player and fixing what he felt was his biggest weakness – his consistency. He looks forward to proving that in the weeks ahead.
"I've learned more defensively and I've become more of a complete player," the former Maryland Terrapin explained. " My fitness and just the mental side of the game have improved. I guess as I've grown up and gained more experience, I've learned to keep the ball. I'm more experienced and more responsible. The Gold Cup will be a great test for me to see how I've grown."
US head coach Bob Bradley was also quick to point out that Rogers is a different player now than he was in 2009 and emphasized both his defensive abilities and his maturity.
"Robbie had in the off-season some knee surgery," Bradley opined. "I think so far this year his mobility has looked good. He's had good energy. I think you can see for Columbus that he's matured. His two-way work has been good. Robbie has also had moments with us where he has been a good player. He's a player that gives us some versatility because he's different from some of these other guys in that at times he stays wide and takes guys on. He can play on both flanks. We think that within a roster you want to have some different options and some versatility. Robbie gives us some of that."
While looking to earn a breakthrough into the US national team, Rogers could also be facing a pivotal year at the club level.
He began his professional career at 19 when he signed for Dutch Eredivisie club Heerenveen in 2006. The move did not work out and Rogers returned to the US where he has played with the Columbus Crew ever since.
While in Columbus, he has accomplished a great deal. In 2008, he won the MLS Cup and Supporters Shield with the Crew and was part of the league's Best Eleven.
Now Rogers finds himself in the last year of his contract and he admits he is pondering a return to Europe as he feels he is more mature now than his first go-around as a teenager.
"It's something I've been thinking about and it's something I'll be thinking about the rest of this year," the California native admitted. "I'm going to have to make a decision. Most players want to go overseas and test themselves and I'm no different. I want to test myself at the highest level possible. With Heerenveen, I went there and I came back. I don't regret it but I wish I knew then what I know now."
"As much as I've enjoyed myself here in Columbus and I still think we have a long year ahead of us, it'll be interesting to see what happens at the end of the year."
Rogers' unique experience in seeing first-hand the youth development in both Europe and MLS has lead him to the conclusion that young players simply need to play. Many times, young Americans have made the move and have found themselves in an environment where they haven't managed to see competitive minutes.
He doesn't dispute that elite European leagues have a leg up in terms of quality but nothing can replace being able to play regularly in actual games, and MLS has given Americans these opportunities.
"I think the most important thing for a young soccer player is to play games," Rogers said of youth development. "If a player goes overseas and he's not going to play in any games, then I'm not sure what he's going to get out of it. Same with MLS, if you are playing every weekend, I think that's really important."
"Although I think that when I was in Holland sometimes the training was a little better," he concluded. "Players put more effort into training but I still think that games are most important. Wherever you can get games as a young player is where you are going to develop the most."