Prior to the start of the 2017 MLS preseason, most Seattle Sounders supporters had never heard of Academy U-18 captain Sam Rogers. But after a couple of months training with the first team, and 180 minutes of action with Seattle Sounders FC 2 in USL play, fans of the Rave Green are singing the praises of the hyper-talented prospect.
After making a name for himself with Sounders Academy and United States youth national teams as a defensive midfielder, Rogers has played every minute of the 2017 USL season for S2 as a center back. And although this isn’t his primary position, the club’s technical staff is understandably excited about his efforts in the heart of the back line.
“Sam has performed very well in his first couple of games,” said Seattle Sounders FC Director of Player Personnel Kurt Schmid. “He’s been calm and composed on the ball as he adjusts to the more physical style of play and the faster pace of the game.
“As you step up levels from the Academy to S2, some of the biggest differences are the physicality and speed of play, speed of thought, being quicker technically and knowing what you’re going to do with the ball before you receive it,” Schmid continued. “I think he’s going through that progression now. He’s had time adjusting to that in preseason with the first team and then S2, but now that he’s in these professional games that matter the pressure is ratcheted up.”
While Rogers has adjusted well to a new position, his time as a dominant No. 6 in the Academy has eased the transition to S2. His range of passing has helped him dictate the tempo of the match from the deepest position on the field.
“I think [playing defensive midfield] has been good for Sam because it’s busier in the middle of the field than at center back,” Schmid said. “He’s had to have good foot skills, quick feet, quick ideas, so that gives him a bit of a leg up when it comes to speed of play.”
Added Sounders Academy Technical Director Marc Nicholls: “What immediately distinguishes Sam is the quality of his passing. It’s not just that he completes a high percentage, it’s his quality and composure on the ball,and his detail of passing in tight situations is as good as anyone.”
Although it’s a small sample size, Rogers’ statistics so far, in possession and on the defensive side, support the notion that the Academy standout is adjusting well to the USL level.
Through the first two matches, Rogers leads the team in successful clearances (14) and blocked shots (five), two vital components of a commanding center back’s game. He also leads all defenders in interceptions (five), duels won (11) and tackles (five), demonstrating an improvement on the defensive end.
Among S2’s outfield players with at least 30 passes this season, Rogers leads in the following categories: passing percentage (79.5 percent), forward passes (40) and passing percentage in his own half (87.5 percent). His ability to set the tempo of the match with short passes, while also stretching the opposing back line with accurate passes over the top, means S2’s build-up play often flows through the feet of the young defender. And while Rogers’ elite distribution is allowing him to thrive in a professional environment, it’s a skill set he developed in his days with Sounders Academy.
Regardless of whether Rogers ends up as a No. 6 or a center back, the exposure to the defensive responsibilities of center back in USL play for S2 will certainly benefit his development.
“He needs to improve his 1-v-1 defending and show a bit more aggression and urgency at times,” Nichols said. “That’s only going to come with experience, which is why he’s playing center back with S2, and he makes an incredibly amount of interceptions because he’s very intelligent.”