Keegan Rogers played four years at Western Washington University and is now playing in Sweden after a successful season with his PDL club FC Tucson. Spending multiple years in the PDL, Rogers is finally getting a chance to continue his professional career in Europe. Rogers talks about his unconventional route and how it helped him get to where he is today.
Talk about your time at Western Washington University. Typically a goalkeeper that ends up playing professional soccer played for a DI school. So what was different about WWU, a DII program?
I had an absolute blast attending and playing for WWU. Our program got better each and every year and it was an awesome experience to play for such a great school in such a great conference with such great players. When it came down to deciding which college to attend, I ultimately made my decision based upon whether I would get the opportunity to play right away, what type of scholarship I would receive, and if they offered a decent program for my major. I was recruited very heavily out of high school and I was in contact with most of the D1 programs in the country. However, just about every program gave me a reason not to attend. Some coaches didn’t have any scholarships left, some wanted me to attend and wait until my junior year to start playing, and some schools didn’t have the academics I was looking for. WWU was the perfect fit for me. They reached out to me and I was offered free schooling, the opportunity to be a four year starter, and academically, WWU is one of the top schools on the West Coast. As an added bonus, WWU is close to home (Portland, OR). It was just something that you couldn’t pass up and if I had the opportunity to go back and choose a college to attend again, I would choose WWU every single time.
There were a lot of things that WWU helped with to get me to the next level. I got a lot of experience that most goalkeepers at the collegiate level wouldn’t get. I was a four year starter whereas a lot of other goalkeepers at the collegiate will wait until their sophomore or junior year to begin playing. Experience is invaluable as a goalkeeper and to get all the games I got has been huge for my career. I also got every opportunity to make saves and have a big influence on games. I had several games with 6+ saves and the games where I played my best were against ranked opponents.
When did you realize you could play professionally?
This question is tough for me because I’ve always wanted to play at the professional level and it has always been my goal. I’d say that I truly knew I could play at the pro level was when I was a senior in high school. I had walked into my high school locker room after baseball practice when I got a phone call from my dad saying that I wasn’t going to be going to school tomorrow. Instead, the Portland Timbers had invited me to training for a couple days which was at 10:30 in the morning. I ended up skipping school and participated in practice with the goalkeepers there and it was an awesome experience. At the time, Jake Gleeson was the starter while Troy Perkins was rehabbing from a knee injury. I played well when I was there and with the amount of confidence I had, I knew that this could be an environment that I could thrive in. I thought to myself, “The Timbers could have picked anyone for training. Any collegiate goalkeeper. Any local goalkeeper… and they picked me. An 18 year old kid in high school.”
You played for the Timbers U23 team in the past but this season you played with FC Tucson. What were some of the highlights there an how did Tucson prepare you for Sweden?
Playing for FC Tucson was a great experience. This was my fifth year playing in the PDL and I can definitely say that FC Tucson is one of the best, if not the best organizations to be a part of. For me, the high point was undoubtedly the Desert Diamond Cup. Playing against Real Salt Lake, Colorado Rapids, and the New England Revolution was surreal. At that time I was with Arizona United for preseason but Tucson needed another goalkeeper so I traveled down to Tucson and got significant minutes. I got some great exposure from the games and I even got to train with the Sounders first team. I couldn’t have asked for a better environment to be a part of.
I would say that one of the lows was that there was always players moving in and out of the roster. At one point this year, I believe there were about 35 players on the team and when I departed, there were about 24 or so. It was difficult because when you’re playing and connecting well with your back line, the next week, or even next day, your back line can look completely different and you have to start over and adjust quickly. And also with as much talent that FC Tucson brings in, it limits the opportunities for players to play and get experience. However, at the same time, I think this also prepared me for Sweden. I am walking into an entirely new culture, environment, and team and the quicker I can make changes and adjust, the more successful I will be. FC Tucson has a pro-environment vibe and so I believe the transition to professional soccer will be easier now with the experience I had in Tucson.
Tucson lost in the first US Open Cup game to Chula Vista 2-1, in extra time. What happened in that game?
That was a definitely a rough result and probably the toughest result in my opinion. FC Tucson prides itself in US Open Cup success. So for us, we really expected to go far in the tournament. We were undoubtedly the better team that night. I thought we did everything right except put the ball in the back of the net. Defensively we left a couple players unmarked on a cross and we also got caught on a counter. Chula Vista did well sitting behind the ball and they took advantage of the opportunities they got.
It was particularly tough for me because I barely touched the ball at all. I touched the ball a couple times with my feet, but that’s about it. I believe they had four total shots, and two went in. Nothing I could do on either goal. One was a shot off the post, and the other was a slotted ball from about seven yards out.
At WWU, I usually had to make two or three big saves each game and an average of about five saves a game, but for that particular night, I think I made one save. It was tough as a goalkeeper because there isn’t much you can do about the result on that night. Despite us being the better team in my opinion, Chula Vista did well and upset Arizona United and put on a show against Sacramento Republic, so it was a good showing by them.
Overall how would you rate your season with Tucson?
Overall, I thought the season was great. We won the division, beat the undefeated Kitsap Pumas to make it to the conference finals, and sent players back to their [school] programs as better players. With players moving in and out each and every week, I thought the team met expectations. Obviously, every team has the ambition to win a national championship, but after watching the conference finals against the Sounders U-23s, it just looked like some of the FC Tucson players were tired at the end and I believe that was more of a total roster problem than a personnel problem. We had the players, just not the energy. If we had the 35 players that we had mid-season for those two conference games, I have no doubt that FC Tucson would have won both games handedly. But from my perspective, it looked like they just ran out of gas. Overall, I thought the team did well and I’m proud of the way we played.
How did you get in contact with IFK Lammhult? Were there any other clubs you were talking with?
I was actually contacted by IFK Lammhult through my brother. My brother Austin Rogers plays professionally for Kitsap Pumas and he has a ton of connections with teams all over the world. Lammhult reached out to him asking if I’d be interested in coming over to Sweden to finish out the season and I said yes. Not very many people get an opportunity like this, so I didn’t hesitate to accept the offer. At the time they contacted me, I was focused on coaching and getting ready for school in the fall to finish my degree, so I wasn’t directly talking or trailing with any teams. However, I am always keeping updated with teams in the USL and MLS and their goalkeeper situations.
What tier is IFK Lammhult in the Swedish set-up? I was having trouble finding an answer on this.
Lammhult has been going through a lot of change recently. They were in the 3rd division a couple years ago, but when they moved down to the 4th division, the club decided to essentially restart due to finances. Last year they won the 6th division and now we are in the 5th division.
What’s the goalkeeper situation like over there? Are you being brought in to start or will you be competing with someone else?
I have been brought in to start. Their starting goalkeeper has been having some issues with his hand, so I have been brought in to replace him. There are two other goalkeepers on the roster; one is 15 and the other is 26.
And when do you leave for Sweden?
I have been here for two days now. I have had one training with the goalkeeper coach and we have our first game August 1st. I am looking forward to all the challenges that await. This is a great environment to be a part of and I can’t wait to continue develop my skills as a goalkeeper.