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SSFC Spotlight: Sam Rogers earns senior call-up following strong season

The defender thrived after heading abroad to Norway.

MLS: U.S. Open Cup-Portland Timbers at Seattle Sounders FC Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

The United States Men’s National Team released the roster for the annual January camp, a first look at the potential rising talents for the current World Cup cycle. While this may be the only invitation for some call-ups, others will use the opportunity as a springboard to future success. Having been away from the program for a few years, Sam Rogers of Rosenborg is one of the more interesting inclusions on the 24-player squad. The 23-year-old centre-back has thrived since moving abroad and recently concluded a fantastic season in the Norwegian Eliteserien.

Born in Seattle, Washington, Rogers began playing with the Seattle Sounders academy in 2013, progressing up the pyramid all the way to serving as captain of the U-18 squad and being named to the Development Academy’s Western Conference Best XI. Despite committing to Villanova University, he signed a professional deal with the club’s reserve team after impressing in amateur appearances. The club noted his development, “good frame,” “quick instincts,” and successful switch from defensive midfielder to centre-back.

In his first season, Rogers made 25 appearances in the USL Championship, contributing two goals and an assist while displaying consistency and calmness in possession. He was called up to the first team on short-term loan agreements, starting and playing 90 minutes in the fourth round and Round of 16 of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, with the manager praising him for “holding his own.” The league named him the fifth-best prospect under the age of 20, one of the leading minute-getters.

The next year, Rogers played in 11 matches with the reserves. In 2019, he made 20 appearances for the rebranded Tacoma Defiance and often served as captain of the squad. During the summer, Belgian club Standard Liege brought him for a three-week trial.

The following season, despite being enjoying the best fitness of his career, Rogers was unable to earn an MLS contract. He appeared in eight reserve matches during the COVID-shortened schedule. His time with the Sounders ended outside of the lineup, a complicated tenure that involved injury and a premature death in the family.

“I think the expectations and standards that were put on me helped me become who I am today,” Rogers told SBI Soccer. “When I was in Seattle, in that environment, it helped me focus on myself and it allowed me to overcome a lot of adversity. I was able to be mentally strong and utilize those moments to my advantage and I think that has benefitted me as a player in Europe.”

A winter move to CD Leganés in Spain was reportedly being negotiated, but the deal stalled. Out of contract with Tacoma, Rogers joined OKC Energy in the USL Championship, making 12 appearances. Halfway through the season, the centre-back went on loan to Hamarkameratene, also known as HamKam, in the second-tier Norwegian First Division with an option to purchase at the end of the season and a sell-on clause. The club had an opening on the back line and was eager to utilize his physical strength and capability in the build-up.

Rogers immediately assumed a starting role for the club, playing every minute over the final 17 matches. Kamma won the league and earned promotion to the Eliteserien, ending a 13-year absence. Enjoying his time in Norway, the club activated the purchase clause. However, coaches Kjetil Rekdal and Geir Frigard were then hired by Rosenborg BK and decided to bring along their star defender for a one-million transfer fee, signing him to a contract through 2025.

“When I found out that they were going to Rosenborg, I had an idea that I would continue to play for them,” he told the club’s official website. “When I came to Norway, they had faith in me and gave me confidence. To me, they are a perfect duo, complementing each other. With Kjetil and Geir, you know that expectations and standards are high and you just want to go out and perform for them.”

Despite missing extended lengths of time due to multiple injuries, including a thigh-muscle issue, Rogers starred in the Eliteserien and appeared in 25 league and cup matches. He even discovered a scoring touch, contributing six goals. The standout performance came in a fixture against FK Jerv, netting a hat-trick in the 3-2 victory.

“I have never before scored more than two goals in a season,” the defender said on the superlative day. “This team gets a lot of chances - especially on set pieces. And with my height, that should be one of my strengths. The coach has also told me that several times. Defensively, I’m good in the air, but I also have to use it offensively. Today, I managed it.”

Rosenberg finished the season in third place and qualified for the next edition of the Europa Conference League. Rogers is expected to be a key player as the team pushes for the title in 2023. His performances even put him on a potentially significant wider radar.

At the international level, Rogers was a member of the United States Under-20 Men’s National Team that won the 2018 CONCACAF U-20 Championship. He started in three group stage matches but was not included at the ensuing 2019 U-20 World Cup. After a long absence from the program, interim manager Anthony Hudson named him to the roster for January camp as the defender seeks his first senior cap in the friendlies against Serbia and Colombia.

Standing at 6’3”, Rogers is primarily a left-side centre-back who claims aerial duels and can also occasionally line up at fullback. He thrives in a direct system with the ability to spray long passes across the pitch, whether switching the field or springing a winger for a counter-attack. Describing himself as “quite athletic,” the defender “uses his size” in the box to derail opponents. His work in the attacking third is also fairly unique for the position, cracking a long-distance shot or hanging in the area to add another body while possession is recycled. The general area for improvement is more security in front of his own goal, which could be fixed with a quicker read of the game that comes from experience.

Rogers has the speed to play the outside role in a three-player backline, capable of dispensing slide tackles to shut down faster wingers. He is a deceptively skilled dribbler and has the ability to work out of pressure. His headers are useful on both sides of the ball, becoming a deadly weapon during the attack, particularly on corners.

While perhaps not viewed in the highest esteem by followers of the USMNT, the Scandinavian leagues are a valid pathway to the top levels of Europe. Rogers was struggling to hit the next level in the American pyramid and found his way to Norway. Given the chance to demonstrate his value, he stepped up and performed, even displaying a previously unseen facet to his game. The January camp call-up could be the first of several as his career continues to blossom over the next few years.