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Elmonter wants to return to the ‘beautiful game’

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When John Rogers was a kid, he was told he was too small to play soccer. But he never let go of his dream, and wound up making a name for himself playing semi-professionally in Europe. Now the 24-year-old Elmont resident is seeking a professional team to join.

“I want to continue my dream of bringing the World Cup home,” he said, noting that Dr. Marion Campos, assistant to the deputy consul general of the Brazilian Consulate in New York — whom Rogers knows through his father — once said he saw the same potential in Rogers as Pelé, the legendary Brazilian player who helped his country win three World Cup titles.

Playing in Europe

Rogers moved to the United States from Trinidad at age 7. When he graduated from Elmont High School in 2013, he moved to England, where he played for the Eccleshill United Football Club, progressing to the division below the professional level before being offered regional contracts in Spain.

He signed with professional soccer club UD San Pedro’s reserve team in 2015, and played for Division Three and Four soccer teams in Spain over the next three years, while also attending Marbella United Football Academy’s professional preparatory program. There he met Coach Alexandar Mutavdzic, who taught Rogers many of the technical aspects of the sport that children in Spain learn at a young age. “He’s a hard-working boy who made huge progress,” Mutavdzic said of Rogers.

He went on to become the third-highest scorer in the Spanish Football League’s Fourth Division in the 2017-18 season, and was offered a professional contract with the Annagennisi Karditsas Football Club in Greece in 2018.

Rogers, however, broke his kneecap in a charity game in England before he could sign with the Greek team. So he returned home to Elmont and spent all of last year recovering.

He underwent rehabilitation, he said, but did not see real improvement until his friend Alexander Bowen, a high jumper from Elmont, suggested that he train with Goran Milanovic, a retired discus thrower from Serbia who now coaches track and field at Adelphi University. “It was a network of [athletes] who came together to help me in my recovery,” Rogers said.

With Milanovic, he performed lunges, squats, leg presses, step-ups and side steps. Whenever Rogers doubted himself, he said, Milanovic proved to him that he was capable of performing the exercises by demonstrating that, at age 61, he could still do them.

“Rehab was more mental than physical for me,” Rogers recalled. “I didn’t understand why things had to go the way they did.”

After months, he recently showed major improvement, so much so that he no longer needs rehab.

Where it all began

When Rogers joined the Elmont Soccer Club as a 7-year-old, he became a striker — or forward — positioned near the opposing team’s goal, and started scoring many goals at a young age.

He continued to play in the Long Island Junior Soccer League’s Player Development Program, and helped his team, Elmont Renaissance’s U-15 team, take home the coveted Waldbaum’s Cup in 2010.

“I was happy to have that passion,” Rogers recalled. “Nobody was telling me I was too small anymore.”

By the time he was in middle school, he was recruited to play for Elmont Memorial High School’s soccer team, which he remained with throughout high school, while also training with the Trinidad and Tobago U-17 men’s national team and the New York City Football Club’s select U-15 Academy team, which is modeled after Manchester United’s world-renowned soccer academy.

All of that training paid off when Rogers was recruited to play with the Richmond International Academic Soccer Academy in England at age 16. The school allows student-athletes to take classes toward a bachelor’s degree in international sports management while they play soccer for nine months.

“I was pretty much ready” to continue pursuing soccer in Europe, Rogers said, but he instead decided to finish his high school career in Elmont. Now he is looking to join a professional team. He said he has been speaking to a few football clubs about their programs. Time will tell.