Q&A With Robbie Rogers

Despite a slow start with Leeds, Robbie Rogers doesn't regret leaving MLS

Updated: April 24, 2012, 2:32 PM ET
By Davidde Corran

When Robbie Rogers made the move from MLS to English Championship side Leeds United in January, he was "ecstatic." While a horrid run with injuries and bad luck since then has thrown his plans into turmoil, the former Columbus winger has no regrets. A change of manager, a concussion on your debut and an ankle injury in your first start for Leeds. It's been some introduction into English football for you hasn't it?

[+] EnlargeRobbie Rogers
Drew Hallowell/Getty ImagesWill Robbie Rogers ever get back to playing with the U.S. men's national team?

Robbie Rogers: The hardest part for me to decide to come to England was I didn't know if I was going to get my work permit. Talking to certain guys in the national team about that sort of stuff, it was kind of just up in the air. We didn't know if I'd get it. Some guys wrote me a letter of recommendation.

It just depends I guess who the panel is and if you can present a strong case. I was lucky to get it and I was so happy the day I found out.

It's always been a dream of mine to play in England. I'd love to play in Europe, but England is really special for Americans, I think. When I got that sorted out, I was obviously ecstatic, and then a few weeks after I got here the managers switched. The guy who brought me here [Simon Grayson] left, so I was just like, all right I'm just going to go with it. There's nothing I can do now and I'm just going to do my best and hopefully get a chance. Then I had my concussion. [Laughs.]

Until you've had a concussion, you can't really explain to someone what the feelings are. You'll just try to go for a jog and you'll get hot and sweaty and feel nauseated. It's kind of scary. From what I've learned, they're pretty serious as well. You don't want to have too many of them and they can really affect you down the line.

I was pretty optimistic, but there was one moment where I couldn't train for two weeks and I was sitting around in my apartment and I was like, "Gosh, what am I doing?" I'd try to go to the gym and work out and I couldn't even do that because I could get sick.

It took me a few weeks just to get back to running, and then finally I had to get back in shape.

It's been an adventure here, for sure, the past few months, but I'm so happy that I came here and I definitely don't regret my decision in coming to England. Naturally, the level is higher here than back in the U.S., but how much does that come across? For example, even during training?

RR: Yes. I think in MLS there's some really good players, but on every team there's also some players that aren't necessarily fighting for their spots. It's not as consistent throughout the team.

At Leeds, or at most clubs, everyone is competing for spots. It's really competitive every day at training. Fast, aggressive, really clean on the ball, and this is just in the Championship.

It's crazy in Europe how many good players there are. In the United States there's a lot of good players, but you look at a team in MLS you'll see a handful of guys who it's like, "This guy is really special." But here at Leeds, I could name so many guys who there's something really great about. I guess the level of consistency at clubs is a little different in the countries. Is that why you wanted to come here? Because what better way to improve your game than by surrounding yourself with this level of quality and atmosphere?

RR: Yeah, and competing like that every day is just going to make me so much better. I believe that.

I was in MLS for four or five years and it got to the point where it was awesome -- I loved still coming to training every day, I loved playing games -- but it got a little stale for me in Columbus. I loved Columbus, the people there, but every day in training wasn't as competitive as it is here and as I would have liked.

I feel that, as a footballer over the past couple months, I've grown so much and I haven't even played in that many games. Just the training and being around the atmosphere. I think I've grown a lot. I'm really excited to see -- if I can get a string of games (at Leeds) and I get called into the national team this summer -- where I can test myself around those guys again. Because I remember where I was around those guys when I was with MLS. Now I want to see how I've grown after these past four months when I go into the national team, because I think I'm going to be surprised. I really do. I think Leeds and the club have really helped me as a footballer even though I've only been here a few months. One criticism that's been made of your time in MLS is there's still potential you can unlock. Is that something you'd agree with, and can you achieve that over here?

[+] EnlargeRobbie Rogers
Cal Sport Media/AP ImagesRogers has found the pace in the English Championship far faster than he did at his former team, the Columbus Crew.

RR: If you want to sum up my MLS career, I would say it was a little bit inconsistent. I had some great moments in Columbus, some great moments with the national team and some not-so-great moments.

It doesn't have anything to do with my work ethic. If you ask anyone that actually knows me, they know I'm always working my butt off in the training ground and away from it. I'm a member here of the gym, I'm here in this place every other day. So it's not that, it's just sometimes a mental thing for me. I think that's just being a little immature. I've grown a lot the past few years and I've learned from the bad experiences.

Now that I'm in England, it's forced me to be an adult and be consistent every day, to prove myself every day. That's been one of the best things about coming here. You can't have any of those mental lapses where you're taking a day off. Did you speak to USMNT coach Jurgen Klinsmann about whether to stay in MLS or make the move to Europe?

RR: I remember when I was younger reading something about Jurgen talking about when he first came to the league in England and he was like, "Wow, this is special." He remembered they've got something really special here in England.

I remember reading that a few years ago, and then I also spoke with him when I was in Paris with the national team and I've talked to him on the phone when I was in MLS and told him about my different option. He was surprisingly [saying] you've got to go with your gut and take a chance.

He wasn't against me staying in MLS, but [was clear on] how much you grow as a footballer and as a person by leaving your comfortable setting and your home by going to a new country, learning how to live there, learning how to get along with people, how to get along in a locker room and also performing. I think he's excited for a lot of Americans to take that step and try and experience it and grow. Not only as a footballer, but as a person.

He's got a lot of knowledge. He's a really wise dude. So when he was speaking to me I was like, "I've definitely go to do it." Probably the biggest differences I've noticed between the MLS and the Championship is the speed and physicality, and MLS is a physical league already.

RR: The Championship, to me, is crazy fast. It is insane. Some of us have been calling it "Modern Championship Warfare" because it's so fast.

I've talked to guys like Mikael Forsell and Danny Webber and they say the Championship has got to be one of the hardest leagues. Just the pace of everyone pressuring, at times it can be really direct and the defending. One guy comes in on you and the next guy is waiting for you. It's a tough league. If you can make it in the Championship and do well, you can do well in a lot of other leagues.

I think the differences between the Championship and MLS is, obviously, we play in MLS a lot in summer, so that takes a toll on the players' bodies, playing in the heat always and traveling. The tempo of MLS is not great. A lot of the time you can get the ball as a winger, take your time, do what you want and whatever. In the Championship, you don't have that kind of time. Teams are a little more organized and just pressure better as a team. Do you find you have to prove yourself as an "American" soccer player over here? Especially because, as an attacking and creative player, you're not the stereotype many in Europe have of American players.

RR: Of course. Americans, for sure, when you get to a new country, no matter where you are, you really have to prove yourself. People know that you're coming from a country where football is that big or that important and they're just like, "Why didn't you go play baseball or basketball or whatever?" When I first went to Holland -- and here -- I felt I really had to prove myself.

They don't know the league over there and they haven't watched you play with the national team. So it doesn't matter how well you've done in MLS. You come here as a nobody, with no reputation, and it's just all up to you at that point. You kind of come here on a clean slate. Definitely, if you're American and you're coming to a new country, it's like, "All right, let's see what you have!"

ESPN.COM: When you arrived, the expectation was you'd be heavily involved straight away. What's the situation for you now with the club following the change in manager?

RR: Warnock is a very experienced guy, and I'm sure this offseason he'll look to bring in some of his guys. I don't know what's going to happen, to tell you the truth. He doesn't know me as a player and he's told me that. He's said, "From what I've seen, I like you. But I have no clue who you are."

It's tough, but like I've said, I'm coming to Europe from the United States and I have to prove myself no matter who [the manager] is. I want to stay here in England. I've told my agent I love it here, I want to stay here. The league is unreal and the fans are great. There's just a buzz around football here. So I want to stay here, hopefully at Leeds. It's a great city, a huge club, such a famous club around the world. So many great players.

But if Warnock tells me, "Look, I'm bringing in all these new players, I don't really have any plans with you," even though I have a contract here at Leeds, maybe I'll have to move so that I can find first-team football somewhere so I can make a push for the World Cup. I really hope it's here at Leeds. Like I said, I'm settled here now, finally. I think a good preseason would be beneficial, but I really don't know. Having missed out on the recent squad, what's the situation with you and the U.S. men's national team?

RR: I wasn't in the last camp in Italy. I wasn't playing. Jurgen isn't going to call me in if I'm not playing games. So I need to be somewhere where I have a chance of playing, that I'm getting minutes.

I think that if I'm playing well and doing well, I think Jurgen will call me in. I think he believes in me, I think he believes I have something to add to the team -- speed, hard work and some creativity. I definitely have some work to put in the next few months, and this next year is going to be really important for me and for the U.S. national team. Tell me about Jurgen Klinnsman as a coach compared with Neil Warnock as a coach. That must be like comparing apples and oranges.

[+] EnlargeSergio Ramos and Robbie Rogers
Gail Oskin/Getty ImagesRobbie Rogers started three games for the USMNT in 2011, including the June 4 defeat against Spain, but missed recent call-ups due to injury. "I think that if I'm playing well and doing well, Jurgen will call me in," said Rogers.

RR: [Laughs] Actually they both have a sense of humor to them. Jurgen, as a coach, is a really positive guy, like you've probably heard. He has a lot of positive energy. He was a great player. He knows what it was like to be a player. He's been in those positions. He's played at the highest level possible and won championships, so maybe he can relate to the players a little more just because he was there.

Neil Warnock is a really funny guy -- a lot of experience as a manager and has such a great reputation here in England. On game days and during the game he's really serious, yelling at guys.

But the thing that they both have in common is they both want their players to express themselves and they both just want you to work and to put everything out there on the field, and you can respect that as a player. If you know that your manager just wants you to be out there and give everything you have and hopefully it goes your way, you can respect that.

I think also both of them really let you know what your job is on that particular day, and to a player that's really important. Just to simplify things and be like, "I want you just to get at guys and get as many crosses off as possible" or "I just want you to be up on this guy, tackle this guy, get up close to him, win any balls in the air." In that way they're both similar.

Obviously, very different personalities, but very good in their own way. Klinsmann has the national team gradually playing in a different approach to Bob Bradley, who -- and it's not necessarily a bad thing -- was a bit more conservative in the way he set his teams up. While Klinsmann seems to be trying to get a more proactive style of play. Do you think it suits the national team?

RR: I can't argue [against] Bob's style because Bob had some really great success with the national team and I enjoyed playing with Bob. Bob gave me a number of chances and he really helped me, especially on the defensive end. I thought that he really showed me that you can't just be a great talent offensively at the higher levels of football; you have to do both sides. So that's one thing I really learned from Bob.

I thought with Bob, watching the Copa America, and we defended really well and the counter attack was insane. Seeing Landon [Donovan], Jozy [Altidore] and all those guys getting forward, it was pretty amazing. So you can't say that Bob's style was worse than Jurgen's, just different.

I enjoy Jurgen's style more. It's more attacking; he wants you to have the confidence to get the ball, keep the ball, maybe go at somebody and play. Not to be afraid to be on the ball. Not to say Bob said to get rid of the ball, but Jurgen just really promotes, "Let's dictate the game and let's put them on their heels." I enjoy that more as an attacking player.

I think the first few months under Jurgen were difficult for us to adapt, and I think we're starting to see the team change a little bit and kind of accept that different mentality.

Born in Melbourne, Australia, but now based in England, Davidde Corran is a freelance soccer journalist, photographer and videographer who has covered the game on TV, radio, in print and online around the world. Follow him on Twitter: @DaviddeCorran.