FOX Soccer Exclusive
Rogers steps into spotlight in LA
Robbie Rogers walked onto a platform in the Home Depot Center on Saturday afternoon and held up his new LA Galaxy jersey for all to see.
The cameras clicked and shuttered as Rogers – now more famous than he could have ever imagined during a career that already includes 18 U.S. international appearances and spells playing in three countries – flashed a wide smile and sealed his high-profile return to the game.
Rogers, 26, joins the Galaxy as more than a player. He understands the responsibility he placed upon his shoulders by his decision to reveal his sexuality in February. He knows that people will see him as a pioneer and a symbol for the gay community whether he struggles to make an impact or turns in a series of compelling performances. His mere presence will draw attention.
A few short months ago, Rogers said he planned to shun the spotlight and step away from the game entirely. He thought he made his choice to leave his professional career behind after he finally shared his sexuality with the world.
“For 25 years, I was afraid to share a secret with everyone,” Rogers said in a press conference streamed across the world. “Finally, I did that. Even though soccer was a place where I could be happy and – not necessarily hide that side of me – express myself on the field, I kept my secret because I thought I couldn't be both a soccer player and a gay athlete. As crazy as it sounds to you, obviously, that's not true, but I felt that way.”
Rogers soon realized he missed the game and missed the mark with his observations. He reached out to Galaxy coach Bruce Arena and expressed a desire to train with the two-time MLS Cup defending champions. Arena – in search of a wide player with the ability to stretch the field for quite some time – agreed.
Even though Rogers wanted to step back on the field, he felt a touch apprehensive. He entered a new reality without any sort of knowledge about how his first, tentative move into his old world would impact his new one.
“I was afraid to be back in an environment that kind of affected me in the past,” Rogers said. “I was coming in here a little bit nervous. I spoke with Landon [Donovan] a little bit before that and I wanted to see what he thought about the whole situation. After I finally got in here, everything was normal, as it should be.”
The fears dissolved quickly and the joy took hold once more. Rogers discovered he wanted to play again. He even found a welcoming environment – near his native Huntington Beach and surrounded by family, friends and potential teammates – where he felt comfortable doing so.
“It was just so normal,” Rogers said. “I felt that passion again. It just made it easy. I actually thought I was going to step away from soccer, as crazy as it is to look back on. Again, this has been a learning experience for me. This has been a process.”
And now he needed to devise a way to stay there. Rogers publicly expressed his desire to play in southern California, but it took the Galaxy a bit of time to procure Rogers' MLS rights from Chicago. The steep cost of the eventual deal – versatile midfielder Mike Magee, a key component of the two title-winning sides – underscored the Galaxy's faith in Rogers' ability to reproduce the form that once landed him a spot in the MLS Best XI back in 2008.
Galaxy coach Bruce Arena said he plans to name Rogers in his 18-man squad for Sunday night's match with Seattle if he receives the proper clearance in time. Arena noted that it will take time for Rogers to display his true abilities after his layoff and preached the need for patience as Rogers works his way toward full fitness and sharpness.
Those obstacles offer little in the way of resistance for Rogers, a player in the middle of a long and winding journey. He may or may not replace Magee, solve the Galaxy's need for pace in the wide areas or state his case for a place in Jürgen Klinsmann's squad ahead of next summer's World Cup.
Answers to all of those normal questions will come in due course. For now, Rogers will simply cherish his new jersey and the opportunity to return to the field once more.