LeBron James was booed in Cleveland and Sidney Crosby heard the grumblings in Pittsburgh as they experienced playoff failure. So it’s not surprising that someone with, respectfully, less stature -- such as Crew midfielder Robbie Rogers -- would get a razzing from the home fans.
That’s what happened last Saturday during the second half of the match against New England when the Columbus crowd became impatient with Rogers after another failed foray down the left flank. A chant of “We want Ekpo” started, but died quickly.
Emmanuel Ekpo eventually entered the match -- but not for Rogers, who scored in stoppage time to produce a 3-2 victory and turn the jeers to cheers.
It was just his fourth goal in 52 games after opening the 2008 season with five goals in the first seven matches to later that year earn a Best XI selection. Rogers was relieved to get his first score since last August.
“I was just glad we scored and it was the game-winning goal,” he said.
The fans might not always be happy with his play, but US coach Bob Bradley named him to the 30-man preliminary World Cup roster on Tuesday. Rogers and Crew teammate Chad Marshall will depart for the national-team training camp after Saturday’s match against Chivas USA.
“It’s still important that I work hard with my team here in Columbus and get better,” Rogers said. “I have a lot to prove.”
His teammates come to his defense because he comes to theirs, literally. Rogers has become a two-way player who finally understands his responsibilities.
“He’s doing all the work behind the ball and, sometimes, when you do so much work behind the ball, you’re going to suffer a little in the offensive third,” goalkeeper William Hesmer said.
Rogers has the full backing of coach Robert Warzycha. In fact, he felt his winger had an epiphany of sorts during the 1-1 draw at Seattle Sounders FC on May 1.
“The one thing with Robbie we as coaches were always on top of him for is that he’s in the wrong spot defensively and his tactical awareness wasn’t there,” Warzycha said. “The game in Seattle, if you ask the other midfielders, they will probably tell you that was the best tactical game he played all year because he was in the right place at the right time.”
Rogers’ speed presents problems for defenses and he did have four game-winning assists last year to show he is contributing to the offense.
“I think Robbie’s doing great, to be honest with you,” midfielder Eddie Gaven said. “He causes so many problems for the other teams. He does so many things that don’t show up in the stat sheet that means so much to the team. He creates a lot of havoc.”
When Rogers gets his opportunities, he has to be smarter with the ball, Warzycha said. Too many times he dribbles when he should be looking to get rid of the ball or passes to the least desirable of two or three options.
It’s those head-scratching plays that frustrated the fans last week.
“Some of the decisions he’s making are not right,” Warzycha said.
It’s not all Rogers’ fault, said Hesmer: “Our problem is that we don’t keep the ball enough in the offensive third. We’re constantly turning it over. You’re asking Robbie to run up and down the flanks and still contribute. It’s tough for anybody.”
The adjustment to being a two-way hasn’t been easy for Rogers, but the constant harping of Warzycha and Bradley has worked.
“It takes a lot of energy to do both but when you play at the top level you have to do it,” Rogers said.
He may yet get a chance to show it on the biggest stage of them all.