After the United States women’s national team wrapped up its final training session of a three-week camp on Sunday, Paul Rogers had an email and a voicemail waiting for him.
Major League Soccer’s Houston Dynamo and new head coach Owen Coyle needed a goalkeeper coach — again. Phil Hughes had been named the Dynamo’s goalkeeper coach two days earlier, but plans changed. The Dynamo said Wednesday that Hughes “couldn’t fulfill his position with the Dynamo due to personal reasons.”
So Rogers, who has been goalkeeper coach for the U.S. women’s national team since 2009, had to act quickly. He spoke with U.S. head coach Jill Ellis, who Rogers said was “fantastic” despite the difficult conversation. Rogers took the Houston job and on Wednesday was announced as the Dynamo’s new goalkeeper coach. He says the entire process took about 24-48 hours.
“Getting back to the men’s game has been something that I’ve looked at for probably a year or so,” Rogers told The Equalizer on Thursday. “Over the last couple of years, I’ve had a few offers, both here in the U.S. and back in England. This was a fantastic opportunity for me. The timing just probably looks a bit odd to people on the outside, but you don’t get to choose your timing. I don’t get to choose when there is a job opening. This particular job — the franchise, the coaching staff that are here, the front office — for me was just too good to say no to.”
The timing is difficult from the U.S. women’s national team perspective. The U.S. women are four months from competing in the World Cup and in crisis mode as goalkeepers go. Hope Solo is currently serving a suspension and U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati admitted it is possible that she could be held out of the World Cup. Backups Ashlyn Harris and Alyssa Naeher lack international experience, and the more experienced and now healthy Nicole Barnhart hasn’t played for the U.S. in over a year due to injuries.
Rogers said he understands the timing isn’t ideal, but stressed that the Dynamo job was the right fit for a move he’s been looking to make.
“Obviously it’s difficult,” Rogers said. “I’ve been with some of those players on that squad for six years. I’ve been with Hope for club an country with Saint Louis, and Ashlyn the same. I’ve been with Barny since the beginning. It’s tough — the outfield players as well. I’ve been there the whole time with them. But coaches come and go, and that’s what I said to them in the email.”
Rogers wasn’t able to speak with any players in person, but said he’s spoken with Barnhart, Harris, Naeher and Solo on the phone since making the decision. He emailed with the rest of the players and he said he’s spoken to Gulati and other U.S. Soccer officials.
Rogers believes the U.S. is capable of winning the World Cup — and with Solo in net.
“She’ll come back from the suspension, the coach will be in place,” he said. “It will be somebody that I’m sure that she knows. The people that have been talked about and that I’ve talked with Jill about, who she has asked me about, the person will slide in. Within a couple of days, everything will be normal.
“Again, is it ideal? No. But the transition, I think, will be fairly smooth.”
The U.S. leaves for France on Sunday for a Feb. 8 game against France and a Feb. 13 game at England. Rogers says Ellis has an idea of who she’ll next bring in as goalkeeper coach, and the person could be in place in time for Sunday’s flight to France — another fast decision.
Rogers already completed his first training session with Houston on Thursday. He didn’t previously know Coyle, despite Rogers’ time playing professionally in England and Coyle’s managing experience there.
Rogers’ wife and 6-year-old daughter are still in Louisville, Ky. He still has his plane ticket to France, which he won’t be using. But sometimes that’s soccer.
“This is the right opportunity,” Rogers said. “That’s what I don’t think people understand. It wasn’t the first opportunity, it was the right opportunity. That’s the bottom line. I wish them all the best and I hope they win the World Cup in the summer.”
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