The breakup between the Crew and Robbie Rogers was seemingly in the works for months prior to the midfielder signing Wednesday with Leeds United of England’s second tier.
In early November, Rogers told neighbors in the Short North area of Columbus that he did not plan on being back with the Crew once his contract expired at the end of 2011.
And the Crew were ready to move ahead without him and midfielder Emmanuel Ekpo, who was also out of contract. Technical director Brian Bliss and head coach Robert Warzycha were consistent in saying that they had not held discussions with Rogers or his agent, Shaun Higgins, during the past eight weeks.
In fact, Columbus have already begun restocking their roster by signing Chilean midfielder Milovan Mirosevic and Costa Rican forward Olman Vargas last week, while also pursuing other offensive-minded options.
“With so many offers out there, we’ve spent that money that would have been earmarked for [Ekpo and Rogers],” Bliss told MLSsoccer.com recently.
Rogers still must obtain a work permit to play in England, and if that doesn’t work out, there’s a very slim chance he could return to Columbus. If a return wasn’t in the cards, the Crew would likely trade his rights to a club on the West Coast, where the Southern California native would prefer to play if he were to remain in MLS.
“We have to think about life without Robbie, but if he doesn’t sign [with Leeds] and he comes back, we can make it work,” Warzycha said.
Meanwhile, the Crew feel they have the personnel to minimize the loss of Rogers, who has two goals in 18 career appearances for the US national team.
Mirosevic can be employed as an attacking midfielder or withdrawn forward. Eddie Gaven normally patrols the right wing, but he and Rogers often switched sides and Gaven can play in the center midfielder spot vacated by Ekpo as well.
The Crew also expect midfielder Dilly Duka to break out in his third season after scoring as many goals in the final two regular-season matches of 2011 (two) as Rogers had all season.
There’s also the possibility of signing a Designated Player to replace forward Andrés Mendoza, who led the club with 13 goals in 2011.
“We have the resources to fill Mendoza’s spot,” Bliss said. “I don’t necessarily mean his position on the field as much as the DP spot. Whoever it is, he’ll be on the attacking side of the ball.”
Then there’s Ben Speas. Within moments of Leeds announcing an agreement with Rogers, the Crew put out their own release stating the former North Carolina standout had signed a Home Grown contract.
The midfielder is projected as an offensive threat, although the Crew think he’ll need seasoning before reaching Rogers’ level.
Rogers was an MLS Best XI in 2008, when he had a career-high six goals in his first full season. He scored only four times in the past three seasons, although he developed into a reliable two-way player in addition to leading the club with seven assists in 2011.