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Nov 22, 2008

European option opens up for Rogers and Marshall

CARSON, Calif. -- Today the Home Depot Center. Tomorrow, the Amsterdam Arena?

Or perhaps the Allianz Arena, Bayern Munich's futuristic stadium? Villa Park, anybody? That's home to Aston Villa and a couple of fine American goalkeepers.

A pair of promising Columbus Crew players, two who will figure prominently in Sunday's MLS Cup in sun-splashed Southern California, may not be long for MLS.

Dynamic winger Robbie Rogers and big center back Chad Marshall both want to play in Europe one day. Neither seems in a particular hurry, but the consensus seems to be that either one could launch a successful cross-Atlantic adventure pretty much whenever they choose.

Both careers are burgeoning. Rogers, 21, just completed his first full campaign as a starter -- and what a campaign it was. Six goals and three assists aren't numbers that spring out at anyone. But consider that he was an outside midfielder with plenty of defensive responsibilities.

Plus, his pace and ability to attack defenders one-on-one forced opponents to give attention to Rogers that might otherwise be reserved for other Crew attackers, the likes of veteran striker Alejandro Moreno or, of course, league MVP Guillermo Barros Schelotto. So Rogers' value to a team that claimed this year's Supporters Shield can't be overstated.

MLS Cup final
Sunday
New York vs. Columbus
Home Depot Center, Carson, Calif.
3:30 p.m. ET (ABC)

Rogers knows about the European game already. He arrived early last year at Crew Stadium via an eight-month stint in Holland. The pacey Californian, who once palled around with Sigi Schmid's son back in the pair's youth soccer days, spent just one year in college. He left the University of Maryland in August 2006 to sign with Heerenveen of the Dutch Eredivisie -- so there's not much fear factor when it comes to Rogers and soccer abroad.

Rogers said he's definitely interested in moving back across the Atlantic, but it probably won't be next season.

"Maybe after next season or something like that," he said. "I've talked to the coaches and the agents, and we've decided that I'll come back for sure next season, and then we'll see what happens after next season."

Schmid believes Rogers can benefit from another year in MLS. The Crew coach says domestic matches remain challenging enough to the young winger that he can still learn plenty in another 40 or so games -- and the Crew probably will have that many next year, including Open Cup matches and CONCACAF Champions League contests.

Schmid says Rogers' main area of improvement in 2008 was in consistency and in understanding that the next opportunity is never far away. Rogers sometimes tried too hard, tried to force things during spot duty in 2007.

"Now he just knows a lot more about when to lay off passes and when to wait for better opportunities to take on defenders," Schmid said.

Marshall's move may come more quickly. He has already accomplished plenty in MLS, with a Defender of the Year crown already in pocket. By late Sunday afternoon he could be lifting an MLS Cup trophy.

More importantly, Marshall is out of a contract at season's end. (So are Schelotto, Schmid and center back Danny O'Rourke, for that matter. So the Crew could be in for an offseason of upheaval, win or lose on Sunday.)

"Definitely, at some point I'd like to end up over there," Marshall said this week when asked about playing in Europe. "At least for one contract [period] to see what it's like over there. Definitely I'd like to, but I couldn't tell you when."

Marshall says he's happy in Columbus right now, focused on winning Sunday. But the reality of professional athletics will come calling soon after Sunday's finale. MLS has a spotty relationship with promising young Americans when it comes to allowing them to pursue the Euro dream. Ask Taylor Twellman, one of the talented American players to have offers rejected from overseas teams. Major League Soccer executives and club officials, of course, have their own interest to watch out for.

So if Marshall, 24, signs a long-term deal with MLS this offseason, he loses leverage in the pursuit of European adventure.

"They both definitely have the ability to go play over there whenever they want," said Crew defender Frankie Hejduk, who spent five seasons combined in Germany and Switzerland, mostly at Bayer Leverkusen in the Bundesliga. "When that is, I'll leave that up to them."

Steve Davis is a Dallas-based freelance writer who covers MLS for ESPNsoccernet. He can be reached at BigTexSoccer@yahoo.com.

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