Luke Rodgers has three goals and one assist in five MLS games for the Red Bulls, but he fired his biggest shot yesterday at L.A. Galaxy sniper and Team USA golden boy Landon Donovan.
“In this league, he’s a respected person,” Rodgers said, “but ... the kid’s a d—head.”
Rodgers’ rant follows New York’s 1-1 draw with Los Angeles on Saturday when Donovan constantly complained about what he perceived as rough, physical play from the visitors. Rodgers didn’t back down then, responding with a hand-talking motion on the field, and certainly didn’t back down yesterday.
“He is telling linemen off, shouting at referees. Is it one rule for him and one rule for the rest of us?” Rodgers asked. “He needs to be a bit more humble. He just talks too much.”
Rodgers also took exception to Donovan dropping the f-bomb in the direction of forward Thierry Henry moments after he gave the Red Bulls the lead in the fourth minute. Rodgers searched for words to describe his frustration, then just plain described Donovan as a “prick.”
The outburst is nothing new for the Englishman, who last played for League Two club Notts County. He’s been extremely candid and open about his colorful past, which includes an arrest for allegedly assaulting a competitor in a parking lot. Still, his name didn’t ring a bell with Donovan, who fired back via Twitter.
“I’m confused; who is Luke Rogers?” Donovan tweeted.
After yesterday's tell-it-like-it-is comments, MLS fans certainly know who Luke Rodgers is. And truthfully, he might be just what the league needs.
The guy is a character in a sport that needs more leading roles.
His sentiments are quietly thought in the league but certainly never said. Donovan is the golden boy of the soccer movement in this country and a hero of the national team; criticizing him is rarely done by the media, fans and certainly never by fellow players. But Rodgers wasn’t afraid to back away from his comments or their tone.
And for a player who sports an audaciously jeweled ring on his right hand that looks like it had just been Bedazzled, Rodgers’ swagger is something MLS sorely needs.
In the league’s early days, there were showmen and theatrics, a certain air as MLS created heroes and villains. But as the league developed into a respected playing standard and quality players began to develop within the country while enticing talent from overseas, MLS got a bit sterile.
But now, a presence like Rodgers is perhaps as important to MLS as a David Beckham or an Henry. He’s a fiery sort, unafraid to speak his mind and he stands by his comments and his aggressive style.
Even at 5-foot-7 with a bald head that looks to be built for a scrap, Rodgers resembles an NFL cornerback with his pipes for biceps. Above his locker at the team’s training facility at Montclair State University is a bobblehead of the Austin Powers’ character “Mini Me,” an obvious dig at his lack of stature. But he looks and acts more like a miniature version of Vin Diesel, and what’s not to like about that? Certainly the Red Bulls liked what they saw of the player enough to jump through some hoops to get him this winter.
Rodgers was almost a singular obsession with head coach Hans Backe for the better part of a year. Backe, a Swedish coach now in his second year with the Red Bulls, had targeted Rodgers last spring but the player’s past incidents with the law precluded him from getting his working papers to enter the United States. Rodgers only had limited experience at the Championship level in England, one level below the Premier League, and spent the majority of his career in the lower divisions of English soccer.
In fact, he was a virtual unknown to most.
Fans weren’t too eager that Backe brought Rodgers into the team, even if he had coached the player before. And Rodgers early success in MLS, including a two-goal game three weeks ago where he also had an assist, only seemed to draw questions to MLS of how good of a league this really is.
But Rodgers’ style and his desire to keep the ball on the ground fits better with the style of MLS than the physical rigors of the lower divisions of England. At Notts County, Rodgers had to play and assimilate into a style that relied on long and direct player. In New York, he gets the ball at his feet a lot more and he’s thriving.
And now his passionate and fiery rhetoric is making him a fan favorite as well.