Robbie Rogers' experience as an outside back is quite limited – one game at the Beijing Olympics, a few matches with the LA Galaxy's reserve side, some training sessions – and he's seen little time anywhere this year thanks to a debilitating foot injury at the start of preseason.
So the quality of his performance in Sunday's 1-1 draw at Chicago, a real bright spot on a rather listless afternoon, came as something of a surprise.
The 27-year-old winger stepped in for heat-addled right back Dan Gargan near the end of the first half, got through an initial rough patch, then made a lasting imprint on the match, stealing a ball to set up Landon Donovan for a 74th-minute equalizer.
“I thought he played with a lot of confidence,” head coach Bruce Arena said on LA's postgame telecast. “He hasn't played in that position a whole lot, and he was confident. He helped set up the goal and defended well.”
Rogers, whose yearlong tenure with the Galaxy has been pockmarked by injury and ailment, didn't make his season debut with the first team until the May 17 loss at Houston, after which Arena said he needed a few more games with LA Galaxy II, the club's USL PRO-based team, to get up to speed.
Arena has instead included Rogers on the bench five games in succession, and he's found his fitness and form in practice sessions.
“I think just being able to train for three or four weeks and sustaining that kind of workload has really benefited me,” Rogers told reporters in Bridgeview, Ill. “I think there's tons of things I can improve on, and today I thought there were things I could have done better. But I was happy to provide Landon [Donovan] with that assist and get a point on the road.”
Donovan was impressed.
“He's certainly progressed, and he's learning how to play a new position, so that's been a little bit of a challenge for him, but he did great,” Donovan said. “… Coming in to that game was tough; he hasn't played in a while. So fitness-wise, it was going to be tough, but I thought he defended pretty well, he made a few good plays and then the assist was a very good ball.”
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Rogers showed uncommon energy going forward in hot, humid conditions that sapped the vitality of the game. It was pivotal to LA's comeback after Jeff Larentowicz converted a penalty kick to give the Fire a 68th-minute advantage.
Chicago were passing out of the back after a Rogers' cross from the right wing, when Kenney Walker pressured Chris Ritter into making a square pass to Gonzalo Segares just above the Fire box. Rogers surged forward to intercept the pass, then sent a low ball through the goalmouth – past Robbie Keane and Chicago defender Bakary Soumare – for Donovan's simple finish at the left post. It was the Galaxy's only shot on goal.
“I just kind of noticed that [Ritter] put his head down when he was passing it to [Segares], and it's a slow field, you can pick things off,” Rogers said. “So I kind of just read that [and I saw] Landon coming in the back post, so I thought just if I could whip it into the back post, he would run on to that.
“He had an amazing finish. It wasn't an easy ball to finish. Those are the kind of balls a winger and an outside back has to play, and we work on that kind of stuff. It's not a routine thing, but it's kind of something you do 10, 20 times at training, so it was a great finish. You have to give Landon a lot of credit.”