Port Vale: Rodgers hits the big time in the Big Apple
WHILE Port Vale continue their pre-season adventure in the U.S, one old boy is living the American dream ... playing alongside French superstar Thierry Henry.
From Birmingham via Burslem to the Big Apple, it has been quite a journey for Luke Rodgers, who can't quite believe his luck after signing for the New York Red Bulls from Notts County last January.
Two-and-a-half years ago, the 29-year-old was plying his trade with Vale in the lower reaches of English football.
Now the diminutive Rodgers, pictured right, is making a big impact in Major League Soccer after striking up an unlikely attacking partnership with World Cup-winner Henry.
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Between them, they have bagged 15 goals – nine for Henry and six for Rodgers – to help fire New York to the top of the Eastern Conference.
Rodgers, who scored 20 times in 66 outings for Vale between 2007 and 2009, said: "Coming to New York is the best thing I've ever done because I'm playing with world class players like Thierry, Teemu Tainio (ex-Spurs) and Rafa Marquez (ex-Barcelona).
"It's also quite flattering that I've been able to fit into a team full of such quality, having come from League One and League Two level.
"When the Red Bulls manager asked me to come to New York I wasn't sure about the move. But when I saw the quality of the players I knew it was a top-class club and I couldn't wait to get here.
"This is the happiest I've been in football."
One of Rodgers' career lows came in late 2008 when he fell out with former Vale boss Dean Glover and subsequently moved on loan to Yeovil Town before completing a perm-anent move to Huish Park.
He got his career back on track by signing for Notts County before earning a League Two championship medal in 2009-10.
But Red Bulls boss Hans Bakke, who managed Rodgers at County, persuaded the ex-Crewe forward to sign a two-year deal at the Red Bull Arena.
Rodgers eventually arrived in New York to join Red Bulls' foreign legion of 17 different nationalities. He hasn't looked back.
The only other Englishman there is former Macclesfield Town midfielder John Rooney, the younger brother of Manchester United star Wayne.
Among Rodgers' many U.S. career highlights is lining up against former England captain David Beckham in the Red Bulls' 1-1 draw at LA Galaxy in May.
"To be on the same pitch as Beckham was crazy, but I swapped shirts with him at the end of the game," added Rodgers, who is also amazed to be Arsenal legend Henry's regular strike partner.
"I watched Thierry, one of the game's greatest players, in the Premier League for years. Now I find myself playing up front with him – and we're scoring goals together.
"We've scored 15 league goals between us and as a team we're top scorers in the division.
"Thierry's down to earth – nobody has a bad word to say about him. He'll do anything for you, so he's a top man.
"We're top of the league and I reckon we've got the players to go all the way and win the play-offs.
"I just want to do well and see what I can do from here."
Rodgers, who will return to England later this month to play in the Emirates Cup at Arsenal, is sure Vale will be enjoying their North America experience.
"I don't know anything about the teams Vale are playing, but football is getting massive in America.
"We get up to 20,000 fans at our games, and the likes of LA Galaxy get 25,000 home gates. When we lost 4-2 at the Seattle Sounders in June, more than 46,000 fans were watching."