Though the city of Columbus, Ohio is known worldwide as a hotbed for collegiate sports, it’s our thriving professional sports franchises that play the most important part in expanding that reputation beyond the famed Horseshoe and the confines of OSU’s campus.
Longtime residents of our fair city will remember back to 1994 when Columbus was named as the first of the ten inaugural Major League Soccer (MLS) clubs. Then, in 1999, the franchise made American sports history by opening Crew Stadium, the country’s first major league stadium built specifically for soccer. And while the team’s fandom ranges from casual supporters to the more die-hard regulars in the Nordecke (the German name for the northeast corner of the Stadium), there’s no denying that the number of people who insist on clarifying the sport of football as “American football” is undoubtedly growing.
Helping to usher in the popularity of soccer here in central Ohio is a new generation of top players looking to make their mark on “America’s Hardest Working Team.” From forward Brad Evans to defender Danny O’Rourke to forward-midfielder Robbie Rogers, the current roster for the Crew is stocked with talent. In an interesting twist as teammates, the paths of these three players have crossed at several points in the past, whether as former teammates or as foes playing for rival schools. But past aside and looking to the future, there’s no mistaking the fact that Brad, Danny and Robbie are now driven to succeed as a team. Read our exclusive interview with these three up-and-coming stars and learn through a crisscross Q&A how a true team must be able to celebrate its individuals on and off the field.
Brad Evans: Danny, when I Googled your name and clicked images, there were a thousand different hairstyles. What’s up with that—from cornrows to the fro?
Danny O’Rourke: I guess I just like doing different things. I wake up in the morning and I’m like ‘I’m bored’ or I’ll see a magazine article or something on TV and I’m like ‘I’ll do that and I’ll just do it.
Brad: Well, you’ve had the same for a while…
Danny: I know. Do you have any suggestions?
Brad: Shave it!
Robbie Rogers: I think you should pull off the braid rat-tail like that guy from Sweden.
Brad: You [Robbie] should pull something crazy off for the Olympics like lightning bolts because you’re fast.
Robbie: Nah, I have to represent my country.
C: Can anyone outrun you on the team?
Robbie: I don’t know. Maybe not on this team, but there are a lot of freak athletes in our league. The MLS has a lot of really fast guys that could probably play as running backs.
C: You are all All-Americans, correct?
Danny: Robbie is a College Cup winner.
Robbie: Yeah, I was only a freshman in college and then I left. I wasn’t expecting to leave, but I got a good offer from Heerenveen in Holland, which is the Dutch Eredivisie.
C: So how does that work?
Robbie: There was a scout who watched Brad and I play when we were younger and he asked if I wanted to go train there. I wasn’t really expecting much even when I was there. I only trained with the reserve team. I didn’t think much of it. They told me they were going to keep watching me. I actually had a national team trip there a few weeks later. They sent a scout to watch my games and it happened so quickly. I just turned 19.
C: Danny, tell us about your gig at Indiana.
Danny: It was a good four years. We won two national championships and that was probably the best part about it… especially because we won one in Columbus. It was fun coming home.
C: Did you put up any crazy stats?
Danny: I put up some crazy stats, man. Two goals and six assists in four years!
Robbie: Yeah, and 4 yellow cards.
Danny: I think I lead the nation is fouls.
Danny: We played three in the back, a defensive midfielder and just not giving up goals. Back in the day, they said they only gave up five goals in one season. So we tried that, but I think eight [goals] was the best we could do.
C: But now you’re playing professional soccer.
Brad: Yeah, in Columbus. Far from the beach.
Robbie: Brad, how do you like Columbus?
Brad: It’s good.
Danny: Your typical day in Columbus, how is it?
Brad: I wake up—well Robbie usually wakes up at the butt crack of dawn. We don’t have to be at practice until 9:15 so Robbie gets up at 8:15 and has two bowls of oatmeal filled to the brim. All I hear is him clanging all of his stuff! I have my alarm set for 8:56 so all I have to do is brush my teeth and go to practice. After practice, I maybe have some lunch with Will and Danny and then sit on the couch for eight hours until it is time for bed.
Danny: What would you do differently if you were in LA?
Brad: From August 3-10, I will go to the beach every day and get Mexican food! The two things that Columbus is lacking big time are good authentic Mexican food (if you have any good Mexican food let me know!) and an In-N-Out Burger!
Danny: So basically if we put a beach right outside your door and a little Mexican shack…
Brad: Then I would be in heaven!
Robbie: Because, I mean, we do everything else that we did in California. There just isn’t as much to do in Columbus as in Cali.
C: What about ladies?
Brad: I’ve had a girlfriend for three and a half years now.
Danny: I’ve had a girlfriend for about three years now. She just moved here and got a teaching job.
Brad: But Robbie Rodgers is a different story! He is just 21!
Danny: He’s the future!
Robbie: I am single…
Brad: He is 21 going to the Olympics from Huntington Beach, California. It doesn’t get any better than that.
Robbie: But I need a girl who is willing to cook, do the laundry and just chill. We have a really nice couch. Oh, and she needs to enjoy sushi.
Brad: We have to describe this couch.
Robbie: Okay, it’s this mammoth couch from Z Gallery. It’s huge! If you sit all the way back, your feet barely reach over it.
Danny: We were all watching the Euro 2008 semifinal. It was me, these two and our teammate Stefani. I was all into the game and I looked back and all three of them were sleeping on each other!
Robbie: That’s why I kind of miss college. You know, because college life is pretty awesome. You get to go out and meet a bunch of girls.
Danny: Do you regret that part of leaving early?
Robbie: Yeah, for sure. Now I’m just so busy from work and too tired to even do anything.
C: So, Brad and Robbie, you met before this because you guys played together?
Brad: Yeah, we played in 2003 before Robbie was even in college yet. We played for Orange County Blue Star. We played all summer together. The fact that we both made it here is pretty weird.
Robbie: Especially because I made it here by a lottery draft—pretty much at random.
C: Dispel the stereotype of people labeling American soccer is kickball.
Danny: I’ve never heard that stereotype. I do think we have some catching up to do with European football and definitely Latin America. It’s a mixture of players from all over the world. It’s kickball at times, but it’s not ingrained like it is in other cultures. You’re always a couple steps behind, and by the time you get to the pros, you’re still behind because that’s their lifestyle over there. We are starting to get it and starting to feed programs to kids when they are young.
Brad: The way I see it, the MLS has been around for 12 years and their [European] leagues have been around since the 1800s. So if it was flipped around and reversed and we had endless amounts of money to put into the league, we would be there and it would be much easier to swallow then. It’s tough now. You know, our salary cap is $2.3 million per team. Teams like Manchester don’t have salary caps and they are netting $30 billion a year. A top player like John Terry for Chelsea is making 210,000 pounds per week. Steve Gerald is making 320,000 pounds per week and you double that to get American dollars. And that’s also without their contracts from companies. Right now, the reigning player of the year, Cristiano Ronaldo is going to be paid 70 millions euros. Robbie: I agree with these guys. Being in Holland and overseas, you see all the work they put into the youth, but I think the US has to get better at working on the fundamental skills. The US has the freak athletes and when Americans are over in Europe, the clubs always love their attitude. So we need to get better at the fundamentals, but we are ahead of other countries with our attitude and spirit and athleticism. And for the league, I can’t really say it is kickball. I don’t think it is any different than other places. With so many different people from different places, the US style has so many different cultures. I think it is an enjoyable league to watch. The playing conditions are not the greatest, but it is only going to get better.
C: Based on where you came from, where you currently are and where you imagine yourself going, how is Columbus doing as a community to initiate a quicker success? Do you think we are doing enough to nurture the soccer impact?
Brad: I think the first huge step was Brad Friedel’s Academy, which is like a Bradenton Academy and they bring players from all over the place and house them and play soccer 24/7. Some of the players there are 15-years-old and they are already getting offers from clubs overseas. If the MLS can finagle their way in there, then they can get their hands on some talented youth. That is the most important thing—the youth.
C: What about the community?
Robbie: I think the stadium is a great soccer stadium. I don’t think there have been any improvements besides the stage, but that really isn’t a soccer improvement. Maybe they could put a roof over so when it rains, the fans (which are soccer moms and dads) and young kids can come and watch and enjoy the sport even when it’s cold out. Even at the little clubs in Holland, playing fields have heated grass so that the snow doesn’t stay on the grass. They have heaters and roofs for the fans.
Danny: Just being from Columbus I have been through the whole process. I think obviously this is Buckeye country, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I am a huge Buckeye fan, but I think we need to tap into the fan bases. I feel like they think we are trying to take fans away from them, but it is a different type of sport and we need to get out there in the community and grow as a sport. In respect to the stadium, it’s great that we were the first stadium, but it is like “what have you done for me lately.” It’s a tough business because you have to make money in order to do stuff and you are fighting every year to break even. But they are trying to put in a new state-of-the-art training facility, so once we get that, it will be great. At the end of the day, it comes down to the athletes and we have to perform on the field. If you perform like we did this year, then you get the fans and you get new people coming out.
C: Compared to all other athletes in the world, do you think there is a more utilitarian skilled athlete other than a pro soccer player?
Danny: I think that is the best thing about watching any kind of sport—appreciating what the player can do. You know, I can’t throw a fast-ball or tackle someone coming at me. For us, it is doing what we do for 90 minutes. We have a 10-minute break in the middle, but you are constantly running and are being called to do a sprint, a jump and then sprint again. It is mentally and physically challenging.
Brad: Obviously, I am biased, but I feel my body can go though a triathlon. I can swim, run or bike. I’m not knocking football or basketball, but I don’t think a 7-foot guy can do the things that I can do.
Robbie: I have played baseball, football, surfed, snowboarded and done Judo. I don’t tell that to many people because either they don’t believe me, or they just laugh at me. I started doing Judo when I was five; my sisters have won seven or eight national championships. You travel around the entire country for the tournaments, so before I was 13, I had gone to almost every state. I went to my first national championship when I was eight. I won the triple-crown. I won “Junior Player of the Year” when I was 12. And the most challenging for me was always soccer, because you have to do everything and also do it for 90 minutes and you don’t get a break mentally. And even then you start thinking about how you could do better and help your teammates out.
Danny: When it comes down to it, soccer players have to think on the go. In baseball, basketball and football, you have plays. In soccer, it’s the split second decisions that can make or break a game. You can stop and direct players as you go. I think that is what makes it the world’s game.
Robbie: We don’t mean to disrespect any professional athletes. I remember when I played baseball and my coach would tell me to just step in front of the ball so that I could just steal bases. That might be a big reason why I hate baseball.
Danny: I used to do that, too!
Brad: The biggest thing is that you are doing everything with your feet. Every other sport is connected with your hands.
Brad: Danny, what is your favorite movie?
Danny: Boondock Saints.
Brad: And the most recent CD you bought?
Danny: Radiohead In Rainbows. What about you, Robbie?
Robbie: I don’t buy CDs. I just steal music from friends and put it on my iPod. My playlist has Interpol, Mars Volta and Muse.
Danny: Where are you going on vacation?
Brad: Back to Irvine.
Danny: Can I come with you?
Brad: Absolutely not!
C: Biggest pet peeves?
Danny: Awful Ohio drivers.
Brad: Ugg boots and skirts.
Robbie: Jean jackets… which I was almost forced to wear in our photo shoot!
C: What fires you up?
Danny: When people aren’t courteous.
Brad: People in general. Most people make me really mad. I waved to a lady that lives in our apartment complex and she didn’t say “hi” back. It made me so mad.
Robbie: When I play bad and Ohio cops with their radar guns everywhere when there are so many other things they should be doing. I got a ticket for getting over too late!
C: You are walking down death row, what is your last meal?
Brad: Green chili burrito enchilada style with green sauce from Burrito Company.
Danny: Hyde Park steak.
Robbie: Sushi, soft taco, some popcorn and a chocolate peanut butter milk shake from Graeter’s.
C: If you weren’t playing soccer, what would you be doing?
Danny: I would be in med school. I was a bio-chem major.
Robbie: Danny doesn’t look like it, but he is actually really smart. I would be in school. I would be a senior. My parents were lawyers, so I would try to work for my dad.
Brad: I love animals, something to do with that. Maybe working at a zoo or be a vet. No way would I have a desk!
C: If there was a TV show about each of you, what would it be and what would be its name?
Robbie: Danny’s would be a meathead show with him lifting weights and doing yoga all the time. It would be an infomercial selling stuff. I would name it something like Meathead Express.
Danny: I really can’t argue with that. Brad’s show would be like The Truman Show, with nothing going on with it. It would be called Are You Seriously Watching this Right Now?
Brad: Robbie’s would be like watching the Kardashian house—big family, big house, lots of spending money. I would name it Keeping up with the Hamptons.
Robbie: My middle name is Hampton, so everyone gives me a hard time for that! I’m not really that rich, so don’t get too excited.