With his next international call-up, Robbie Rogers will have played for — and, incredibly, with — new U.S. national team coach Juergen Klinsmann.
In 2003, at age 16, Rogers joined Orange County Blue Star, an amateur, fourth-division club based in Southern California. His teammates included Jay Goppingen. “Goppingen” was, in fact, a stage name used by Klinsmann, a transplanted German, who, at age 38, was enjoying the fifth year of retirement after a splendid career with his national team and several top European clubs. For fun and fitness, he joined Blue Star. To avoid attracting attention, he chose an alias that included the name of the German city where he was born.
“It was cool because I had played as him on FIFA [on a gaming console] and remember watching him in the World Cup,” Rogers told the Insider on Friday night. “When I first saw him at the field, it was like, ‘Wow, that’s Juergen Klinsmann.’ The more I got to know him, I found out he was an awesome person.”
Rogers remembers joining Klinsmann and Blue Star coach Nick Theslof, among others, for group lunches and dinners. He would listen and learn.
Rogers, who went on to play one year at the University of Maryland and is now a 24-year-old winger for the MLS's Columbus Crew, was most impressed by Klinsmann’s movement. “He never stopped moving. It was such a big part of his game. His movement was different than anyone else I’d ever seen. He always found the right space. I tried to do what he was doing.”
Upon his appointment as Germany’s national team coach, Klinsmann hired Theslof to assess matches. And when Klinsmann was named Bayern Munich’s coach in 2008, Theslof came along as a scout.
Rogers has maintained his admiration for Klinsmann, and last year changed his Crew jersey number from 19 to 18, in part because it had been the German star’s number. He also admired Klinsmann’s work as Germany’s World Cup coach in 2006.
“I loved watching Germany because of the energy he brought and the changes he made,” Rogers said. “He got everything he could out of that team.”
Rogers and Klinsmann haven’t spoken in several years, but the young players hopes to receive a national team invitation in the coming months. The Americans will play Mexico, Costa Rica and Belgium over the next six weeks, and probably play three or four friendlies in the fall.
“Bob [Bradley] did a great job. I was a bit surprised” the USSF fired him, Rogers said. “When I started hearing Juergen’s name, it was exciting not just as a player but as a fan. I learned a lot from him when I was younger, and when the guys get to know him, they’re going to like him. I hope I get to work with him. If not, I’ll be excited to see what he changes and what style he plays.”