Portland Christian High senior signs to play pro soccer abroad
When little boys play catch with their fathers in their backyard, they dream of playing major league baseball and competing against the greatest players in the world.
When Austin Rogers was playing goalkeeper with his family in their backyard, he dreamed of playing in Europe against the greatest players in the world.
This July, Austin will take the next step in his journey. The former Portland Christian High goalkeeper, only 18, will move to Thessaloniki, Greece to play for the PAOK U-20 team.
MLS is growing, and its becoming a really good league, Austin says. But the overall talent level in Europe is the highest in the world. Thats why so few Americans have played there. Its so hard to get into the league. With the academy systems they have there, it becomes really competitive.
"Europe is the soccer destination all the players want to get to. Its something Ive wanted to do ever since I started playing. Now that I have the opportunity to go there and hopefully work my way up, its really exciting.
His father, Glenn, who coaches the Portland Christian boys soccer team, has impressive chops as a goalkeeper, as well. He played a couple years for the Timbers in the 1980s.
Glenn never really wanted his sons Keegan, Austin and Cameron to be goalkeepers.
When Keegan was in junior high, he was a basketball player. Glenn needed a backup goalkeeper for a youth soccer team he coached, though, and he asked Keegan to join the team. A short time later, Keegan became a starting goalkeeper and fell in love with the position.
Austin and Cameron soon followed in his footsteps.
You know how it goes, Glenn says. If the older brother is doing something, the younger brother wants to do it. The next thing you know, Austin has got some gloves on. Then my third boy, Cameron, he has some gloves on. The next thing you know, we dont have any glass in our picture frames anymore because youve got people kicking balls at each other all day.
Glenn solved the problem of broken picture frames by building a goal in his backyard.
We have a great time at it, Glenn says. Some people go fishing with their kids, and this has developed into what we do.
Keegan has played for the Timbers Youth Academy and just finished his junior season as the starting goalkeeper at Western Washington University, after four years in goal for Portland Christian.
Cameron, 14, is a Portland Christian freshman who was the Royals' backup goalie last season behind Austin.
A couple of years ago, Austin was looking into the Timbers Youth Academy. But after doing his research, Austin decided he wanted to look into trying to play instead for a European team.
In youth soccer in America, youre being funneled into one club, Glenn says. So do you want to be aligned to one team, or do you want to go into a system where theyre trying to develop you and sell you to a much wider market? (The latter) is what intrigued Austin to peruse Europe also the level of coaching in Europe.
Can you really reach your full potential as a goalkeeper in America? That was the question. His opinion was he could reach his full potential better in Europe than he could in America.
Last year, while Austin was playing for a youth team in Little Rock, Ark., he was seen by a Greek scout, who offered Austin a tryout. While waiting to hear details about the offer, Austin went to Luxembourg for three weeks to play with a Third Division team and train with a First Division team.
When he went to Luxembourg, he knew nobody, Glenn says. He was there for three weeks, a very time-definite trip. We knew how to plan that trip out very well. When he got there, it was fun because he was able to dive into that culture on his own. But we had a lot of contact with the team.
When he came back from Luxembourg, Austin got a call from the Greek scout telling him the offer of a tryout had fallen through. A short time later, Austin got a call from PAOK, saying they wanted to bring him over for a two-week trial. Rogers impressed the coaches and received an invitation to sign and train with the team this July.
Its going to be a developmental contract, Glenn says. Hell play for the U-20 team. They provide the housing and some spending money. Its not like hes LeBron James getting millions of dollars. Hes there to continue his soccer career as an apprentice.
Glenn says that the time Austin has spent abroad has prepared him to live in Greece by himself for an extended period.
Now, hes much better about using websites to learn about the cultures and little idiosyncrasies, Glenn says. For instance, he knows that as Americans we shake our head up and down to acknowledge that we understand. There, you just shake your head down. The upward motion means you dont understand.
Austin graduated from Portland Christian on Dec. 20, 2013. He plans on using the next few months before going to training camp with PAOK in July to try to learn Greek and the Greek alphabet.
He also hopes to play for a PDL club and hit the gym every day to prepare himself to fight for a starting spot with PAOK. And he will begin taking online college courses.
Our education system has evolved such that he can still go to school online, Glenn says. He can do those through state schools and get the whole thing done.
Austin, 6-3 and 180 pounds, says his strength as a goalkeeper is his ability to block shots, "because I have long arms and can jump." He wants to continue working on his distribution, though.
The things I need to work on are distribution and kicking," he says. "Thats really what separates goalkeepers at the higher level. One of the biggest things as a goalkeeper is the shot speed and how hard they can hit it at you. Thats what Ive really been focusing on preparing myself for over the past year or so.
Glenn says his son has two main goals while he is in Greece: to progress as a soccer player so he can one day play for a First Division European team and to earn a degree that will allow him to become a sports agent.
Austins journey to Greece is still a few months away. But already he is excited about all the possibilities.
Its crazy, he says. I think about how I was just playing in high school and now Im getting ready to play at a professional level.