Now that he's been in MLS for more than a year, Robbie Rogers knows – since he starts nearly every game -- what players mean when they talk about what a long grind the season can be.
"I just try to take little mental breaks when I have a chance, go out to eat, relax out by the pool we have at our place," says Rogers, 23, who left Dutch club Heerenveen to sign with MLS last year. "What you do off the field is important."
Rogers scored five goals in the first seven games of the 2008 season, then hit a long lull and didn't net again before heading to China in late July. He started all three games in the Olympics, working both sides of midfield in the first two games and sliding to left back after the ejection of Michael Orozco against eventual silver medalist Nigeria.
"The guys look back on it as a great experience," Rogers says, "but it was a chance missed where, I don't know, the team we lost to reached the final."
On that Nigeria team was a Crew teammate, midfielder Emmanuel Ekpo, who had signed with Columbus after training with the team during its preseason trip to England. "I think he feels bad for me," says Rogers. "He's a great kid and they're a great team, but any time a team loses a player it kind of kills the game."
Upon his return, Coach Sigi Schmid tossed him right into the fray. Rogers played the full 90 minutes in a 3-0 thumping of Real Salt Lake that lifted the Crew into a first-place tie with New England. Since then, the Revs have faltered while the Crew ran away with the Supporters' Shield.
"I came back and had to play right away and I wasn't expecting that," says Rogers, "but we were playing at home and Sigi wanted me to make a difference. We ended up winning that game and went to Dallas the next weekend, so I didn't get much time to settle, but I think the best way is to just get right back into it."
He didn't net his sixth goal until Sept. 18, but it proved to be the winner, as well as spectacular. After collecting a ball on the left flank near the midfield line, he veered inside on a mazy dribble and lashed a shot from nearly 30 yards that whizzed past Red Bulls keeper Jon Conway.
Most of his goals earlier in the season came on breakaways or through balls that utilized his pace. As teams grew warier and dropped deeper, Rogers needed some time, and guidance, to broaden his game and stay in tune with playmaker Guillermo Barros Schelotto. The acquisition of former Rev Pat Noonan gave him a veteran to help refine his attacking skills, and his tactical awareness has grown since Argentine outside back Gino Padula overcame a strained MCL and pulled hamstring to rejoin him on the left flank.
"Pat plays different than I do but I learn a lot watching him in practice," says Rogers. "He's a good finisher and more of a striker, and sometimes I get too excited in front of the goal and he has that composure.
"With him and Schelotto you learn about being around the goal, and from Padula playing right behind me, he helps me a lot tactically. It's something a lot of young players have to improve upon, so I try to listen to the older guys as much as possible."
Hometown: Huntington Beach, Calif.
2005: Univ. of Maryland
2007-08: Columbus Crew
(This article originally appeared in the November 2008 issue ofSoccer Americamagazine.)