It might be a tad hyperbolic to label Sam Rogers’ rise to prominence meteoric, but his journey from the least known preseason Academy invite to arguably the Seattle Sounders’ top centerback prospect has been impressive. He is now set to continue his rise through the organization as he eschews a partial scholarship to play soccer for Villanova in order to sign with Seattle Sounders FC 2 as announced today.
Rogers is eligible for a short-term non-league MLS roster and could be signed for the Open Cup match against Portland.
"We are very excited to have Sam join us on a professional contract," said Sounders FC Director of Player Personnel Kurt Schmid via press release. "We're happy to continue his development with S2 on a professional level after being with Sounders FC Academy, and we know exactly the type of player and young man he is. The future is very bright for him in the organization."
Rogers first began to show his exciting potential in preseason practices with the Sounders First Team. His level of calm on the ball was not only tops among the Academy players but right up there with a lot of the First Team players. The then 17-year-old was not at all overwhelmed by the increased level of play and he hasn’t looked back since.
While with the Academy, Rogers played most as a defensive midfielder, though he did spend some time at centerback. The organization has stated pretty strongly that they believe his best position going forward is in the middle of the backline and it is hard to second guess that evaluation at this stage. Rogers has become S2’s most consistent CB and is third in minutes played on the team with 12 starts, all complete games. He has scored a single goal.
Rogers’ most eye catching skill is his passing, specifically his long passing. From game one with S2, he has shown the ability to play accurate, incisive 40- to 50-yard balls to the forwards and attacking midfielders. In the first few games of the season, Rogers would complete two or three of those long balls per game. Recently, S2 hasn’t been using the long ball, mostly due to available personnel, but Rogers almost certainly has that skill tucked away in his back pocket.
On short and medium length passes, Rogers is still very proactive. 55% of his passes are forward passes and only 8% head backwards. Rogers is also a high volume passer and seems perfectly comfortable building play out of the back. Among players with more than 150 minutes, Rogers has the third most passes per 90 with 40.2, behind only Ray Saari and Francisco Narbón. He has completed 78.6% of his passes, which is respectable, but he occasionally gets a little too casual on the ball when he is the last defender. That is something he needs to work on, and it shows that he isn’t completely comfortable at centerback yet.
Coming into the season, word was that the weakest part of his game was his defense. Despite that, Rogers has been surprisingly solid. Early on there were definitely a lot of holes in Rogers centerback play. He was undisciplined positionally, went for risky interceptions too often, and flat out didn’t know how to deal with crosses. He struggled particularly with counters, where he would often be too aggressive and get beat instead of delaying and pushing the play out wide.
The pace at which Rogers has eliminated these problems is impressive. He is rarely, if ever, caught too far upfield anymore, and has learned to use positioning to slow down counter attacks. You can really see him learning the mental parts of the game match by match. He has improved in the air and is winning 71% of his aerial duels, though with his height, he still needs to step into midfield and challenge on goal kicks and clearances a bit more. Right now that task is left mostly to Narbón and Saari, to little success.
Rogers has also become much better at dealing with crosses. Early in the season that was probably his biggest weakness, but he has gotten much better at reading the flight of the ball coming in from wide areas. He still has trouble with balls around waist height but there is zero reason to think he won’t continue to improve.
One of Rogers’ best attributes as a CB is how little he goes to ground. In the past few years the Sounders have seen a spate of young centerbacks who go to ground too often and too soon, something you rarely see an experienced CB like Chad Marshall do. Each week Rogers learns more and more how to direct opposing players into dead ends or areas where he can get help from a teammate.
Where Rogers still struggles the most is defending quick, fringe-MLS quality forwards. In particular, he struggled against Dane Kelly and José Hernandez last month. Rogers doesn’t yet have the tactical understanding to negate the speed or quickness of those types of players. That is probably the biggest reason why Rogers is still a year or two away from featuring in MLS. That said, Rogers has only surprised with how quickly he has been able to learn a new position at a higher level of play.
Signing Rogers to an S2 contract is truly the best move for both sides, at least as far as soccer goes. It allows the Sounders to maintain developmental control of one of their most exciting prospects and it provides Rogers with access to higher quality training and competition than he would have received at Villanova. Sam Rogers has a bright future with the Sounders and this signing is the best, most logical next step.
Rogers is the fourth direct signing from the Academy to S2 (McCormick, Ramos, Hopeau) and the fourteenth product of the Academy to sign a pro contract with the Sounders.