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Considering Robbie Rogers and the lesser attractive side of the Yanks abroad equation

Jan 15, 2013, 2:48 PM EDT

Houston Dynamo v Columbus Crew Getty Images

As we all wonder what’s next for Robbie Rogers, now officially estranged from Leeds United, perhaps this is a great time to re-open a discussion that most U.S. soccer supporters would prefer not to have.

First, quickly, the news: U.S. winger Robbie Rogers, who was always this close to “something special” status but plateaued too soon and never quite got there, is apparently done at Leeds United. The English club has terminated his contract by mutual consent. That’s clearly not something to highlight on the resume.

The next link in this story chain will be Rogers’ possible return to MLS. Back to Columbus? Reunion with his former coach, Sigi Schmid? We’ll see.

Meanwhile, there’s an important issue to examine here. This is the other side to the habitual push for U.S. players going abroad. This is the less attractive cousin to the domestic player drive for something better, something more lucrative, something sexier …  a pro soccer life less ordinary.

Fans propel the effort; we all crave the next Dempsey, the next Bradley, the next Big Timmy Howard.

We all want our Yanks to go “over there,” as they once said. We long for for these fine fellows to reach the beaches of European soccer, to make us proud as walking, talking, passing, trapping and backstopping demonstrations of our growth and development as a soccer land.

Plus, it gives us another team or two to cheer on TV-friendly Saturday and Sunday mornings.

The trouble is, not everyone can be Dempsey or Bradley or Big Timmy Howard. Those are special athletes; by definition “special” translates roughly to “not everyone can do it.”

Just this morning, we wrote at PST about Robbie Findley, apparently en route back to the States after things went decidedly less than spectacular at Nottingham Forest.

source: Getty Images

Tim Ream at Bolton? OK, maybe the jury remains out on that one. But not for Ricardo Clark and his lost years at Frankfurt. How about Luis Robles for those years at Kaiserslautern? Edson Buddle for his lost time at F.C. Ingolstadt?

How much has Maurice Edu (pictured, left) progressed during his time in Scotland and England?

Brek Shea had a terribly disappointing follow-up to his 2011 breakout campaign. At FC Dallas he’s in position, at least, to rebound nicely. How much would those chances of a smooth bounce-back decline if the 22-year-old winger were starting from the bottom of the depth chart at Arsenal, where he trained a year ago?

This isn’t to say that talented Americans should conquer their quest to play abroad, that they should shrink at the chance to stretch and test themselves.  It’s just a cautionary reminder: wisely identifying the right situation is the critical “where it’s at” here. Absent of a certain level of confidence in that regard, staying put might be the best option.

There’s been so much growth in professional soccer here over the last 10-15 years that it’s hard to keep track sometimes. But one thing has been constant, something the wise guys of our domestic game (Bruce Arena, for instance) have been saying for years, something I have written for years: playing regularly in MLS beats languishing on a bench in England, Scotland, Germany, Spain or wherever.

  1. rufulk - Jan 15, 2013 at 3:03 PM

    One aspect of this conversation that is not adequately discussed is the salary issue. Players almost always make significantly more when they go abroad. Everyone knows that. What many people don’t realize (or at least discuss) is that when a U.S. player crashes out of Europe and returns to the States, they usually keep a pretty substantial pay raise.

    So, really it’s a win-win for U.S. boys. They go abroad and test themselves, and if it doesn’t work out, they can return at a pay grade significantly higher than what they would have accrued had they stayed put.

    • dfstell - Jan 15, 2013 at 3:35 PM

      The money is why I can’t get too upset about these guys going. I mean….it seems absurd what some of these guys get paid in MLS. Hell….a lot of us fans make more money that many of the players. Isn’t it weird that we have players on national TV and some of them are making $50K? They’re objects in fantasy leagues and some of them make less than the fans participating in the leagues.

      Can’t ever blame a guy for doubling his salary.

      • Steve Davis - Jan 15, 2013 at 4:21 PM

        You guys are right. The money is a prime motivating factor. Athletic careers are brief, as we know. I probably should have added that into the calculus.

  2. whordy - Jan 15, 2013 at 3:10 PM

    On the other hand, isn’t this par for the course? I know we want to hand craft all our NT super stars and plot the course for their career, but is that reasonable? Players try to challenge themselves; a lot fail. That’s not unique to Americans, or even Soccer.
    I also, wholly disagree with your last line. With all due respect, playing in a lesser league because of fear of failure doesn’t do our NT, our national brand or these players any favors. I know the MLS wants to hand-craft the league but they can’t hand-craft the NT. That’s what I love about having Klinsmann, pushing players to challenge themselves is what we need. Not to hide in the Columbus or Toronto because better leagues would eat them up.

  3. dfstell - Jan 15, 2013 at 3:30 PM

    I think I generally agree with you. Just moving to a better club isn’t necessarily better if you aren’t getting to play….especially for a younger player.

    But, on the other hand….I look at this mostly through the prism of the USMNT and it seems like these guys are just proving that they are fringe international players. I mean, it doesn’t look like the US is missing out on the next dominant centerback because Tim Ream can’t get time at Bolton. If he were the next dominant centerback, he would be playing more.

    Now, what is sad is that there isn’t a quicker way to get guys out of these bad situations. What’s happening is that they’re finding their ceiling as players, but then rotting in a poor situation for 2-3 years before escaping to a place where they can play and where nobody has any delusions of grandeur anymore. It seems a shame if they waste their age 25-26 years when they should be at the peak.

  4. tylerbetts - Jan 15, 2013 at 5:18 PM

    To the player at hand … this isn’t really a surprise. I was a big fan of Robbie’s for most of his Columbus tenure, but let’s be honest. Like you said in the article, he was always “this close” to being something special. He had clashes with teammates. He had clashes with coaches. He had rumblings of not giving his all in practice and training. He moped at times. He was very good at a number of things, but not great at any of them. Plus, I believe this is his second failed stint in Europe. Hopefully he comes back to MLS, but it won’t be in Columbus. Not as long as the current staff is in place, that is. Columbus still has his rights, but they’ll move them for a small return.

    To the issue at hand. Man, I’d love an easy answer. Yes, I want our boys to go challenge themselves. yes, I want our boys to get paid. Yes, I want to see our boys on the biggest stage possible. But I never want to see our boys chained to the bench. Especially in a lower division. Too many of our guys that go to Europe end up with not the best teams. And while yes, fighting relegation is great for building character and toughness that will help with qualifying and in Brazil, it can also lead to managers being fired, regime changes, and a guy who was the apple of the old manager’s eye being almost unwanted by the new guy. And, not everyone is the special player and special talent Dempsey is to overcome that (repeatedly).

  5. metroplexfrog - Jan 19, 2013 at 12:33 PM

    Our guys that go to Euro teams need to do a better job of finding the right situations for themselves. I would rather a guy go somewhere and play than go to a big club and sit on the bench.

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