United’s Olympian Rogers has eye on London

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WHEN the opportunity to move to England came along for Leeds United’s new signing Robbie Rogers, there were a multitude of reasons why he said ‘yes’.

A chance to prove himself in European football was one, not least because of the undoubted boost doing well in the Championship would give his international career with the United States

Jurgen Klinsmann, the 24-year-old’s national team manager, singing the praises of the Elland Road club was another factor behind Rogers turning down offers from elsewhere to sign a contract in Yorkshire, while the winger also admits that the prospect of moving to a country that is set to host the Olympics later this year appealed.

“I love the Olympics,” the American told the Yorkshire Post ahead of today’s home game against Brighton & Hove Albion. “I was fortunate enough to take part in the 2008 Games with the USA football team.

“The experience was something I’ll never forget. Even the opening ceremony was enough to leave me thinking, ‘Wow’. I couldn’t believe I was there and walking out next to (US basketball star) Kobe Bryant and other sportsmen like that was amazing.

“Just hanging around with the other American athletes in the Olympic village was something that made me feel very proud.

“At times, it felt like a dream. Such as when I walked into the cafeteria and who should be sitting there eating his lunch but Roger Federer. It sounds daft but it was such a thrill.

“I played in all three of the games and the atmosphere was brilliant.

“Although we didn’t get out of the group, we still did well. We tied with Holland in the 90th minute and then beat Japan in the second game. Unfortunately, we lost the final game to (eventual silver medallists) Nigeria 2-1 after getting a red card in the second minute.

“To play all that time with 10 men and only lose by a goal was a great effort. Even though the defeat left us all heartbroken, I still loved being part of it all.

“The atmosphere is why I am so excited about the next Olympics being in England later this year.

“I have already told a few of the guys (in the US team) that I will definitely be coming to a few games, even if they are in London. Just being in the same country as the Olympics will be great. I can’t wait.”

By the time the Games get under way in late July, Rogers will be hoping to have made his mark in the Championship with Leeds.

Signed in the final days of Simon Grayson’s reign, the winger has had to be patient due to the hold-ups that invariably come with seeking both international clearance and a visa.

Eventually, however, both came through and Rogers was named on the bench for last Saturday’s victory at Bristol City. He didn’t get on due to acting manager Neil Redfearn deciding not to make any changes due to Leeds being so in control against their nine-man hosts but the thrill of just being involved was enough of a taster to leave Rogers excited about his prospects in England.

The American international, who joined Leeds after four years with Columbus Crew in the MLS, said: “Coming to Europe was a big appeal and I have really enjoyed it since I signed, particularly being involved in my first squad.

“I’d been at Columbus for four years and felt the time had come to make a change. If I hadn’t taken the chance to come to Europe, I’d have regretted it later in life. I know that.

“I am 24 now so this is also a good time in my life to come over. Having said that, I was torn. There was a big challenge waiting for me in the US (with MLS side Portland Tinbers) if I had decided to stay.

“Portland is a beautiful city and it was a chance to help one of the oldest clubs in the United States. They want to get to a much higher level and that appealed to me.

“But, after taking my time and thinking through what my goals are, Leeds struck me as the best place to play my football if I want my career to grow.

“It helped having people like (USA coach) Jurgen Klinsmann saying nice things about England and Leeds. He had an amazing career and says playing in England was one of his favourite times.

“People like Clint (Dempsey, Fulham striker), (Everton’s) Tim Howard and Landon (Donovan, also of Everton) also said what a great place England was to live so I thought, ‘That sounds a cool place to play’.”

Rogers boasts 18 international caps to his name along with two goals, the most recent of which came in August as the USA drew 2-2 with Mexico in a friendly.

Being named in the side to face the Mexicans was a major lift for the Californian after missing out on a place at the 2010 World Cup despite being named in the initial 30-man squad ahead of the tournament. It is something he is keen to rectify.

Rogers said: “If I can do well here then it should help my international career. Missing out on the World Cup was really disappointing. I have been involved with the national team on and off for the past three years but I want to play more.

“Missing out on the final roster in 2010 has just made me more determined to do everything in my power to make it next time. I will be 26/27 during the next one and that could be perfect.

“I have a two-and-a-half-year contract at Leeds so if I can make it then, hopefully, it means I have done well.”