SAO PAULO – The United States' road to this World Cup effectively started with the Jurgen Klinsmann era, which began on a cold Philadelphia night on August 10, 2011.
The U.S. played rival Mexico in a friendly and ended up drawing 1-1. Of the American players who dressed in Klinsmann's first game, one is retired from the game (Steve Cherundolo), another sparked a storm of controversy by being excluded for Brazil 2014 (you know who) and only four are on the current roster.
And one player saw his life change in a way that would see him make American sports history.
"I was there right at the beginning," Robbie Rogers said in a telephone conversation with Yahoo Sports.
Rogers, who would later become the first openly gay male athlete to play in a U.S. pro sports league, didn't just play for Klinsmann that night at Lincoln Financial Field. As a second-half substitute, he scored the Americans' only goal – a 73rd-minute equalizer that ensured the German-born coach would not taste defeat in his debut.
"It seems like a long time ago now," Rogers said. "It was interesting and exciting to be a part of, to see how things would be different under Jurgen compared to Bob [Bradley]. And if you ask any American player what it is like to score against Mexico, it is pretty special."
At that time, Rogers was nearing the end of his four-year stint with the Columbus Crew in Major League Soccer. He would soon depart for England and an ultimately difficult spell with Leeds United in the second-tier Championship and an injury-filled loan stint at Stevenage in the third-tier League One.
On February 15, 2013, he wrote a 408-word post on his personal blog, revealing his sexuality to the world and announcing his retirement from soccer at 25. Rogers felt that the unforgiving world of English soccer, where tolerance is sadly still not as developed as in other sectors of society, made it impossible to continue playing there.
Rogers' time away from the game was short. Just over three months after retiring, he signed a contract with the Los Angeles Galaxy and made his historic first appearance on May 26, 2013. He remains a popular member of the Galaxy.
Rogers' newfound sense of happiness allows him to reflect with fondness on his significant moment for Klinsmann in 2011, despite perhaps a tinge of regret at how his national team career panned out. Having been one of the seven final cuts for the 2010 World Cup, Rogers still harbored hopes of becoming a regular for the national team at the time when Klinsmann replaced Bradley.
Instead, he has found something ultimately more valuable.
"Right now in my life I feel like I am exactly where I am supposed to be," Rogers said. "In the world there is not huge tolerance of races or sexual orientation and stuff like that. It is the world that we live in. It is going to change but it will take time.
"I am so grateful to the Galaxy and MLS and American soccer for what it has done for me and the opportunity it has opened up for me to play in this environment. It feels very satisfying to be playing professionally and living without [a secret]."
Rogers has known Klinsmann since he was a teenager and is looking forward to watching the U.S. – albeit from home – in Brazil.
"I was really impressed with the way they qualified," he added. "I am just excited to watch and be a fan and root for my friends and see how Jurgen does.
"This is a huge World Cup for soccer in the U.S. and I am looking forward to seeing what this team can do. A lot has happened in three years."
For both Rogers and Klinsmann.
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- Jurgen Klinsmann
- Robbie Rogers