The Los Angeles Galaxy officially announced their acquisition of Robbie Rogers today at the Home Depot Center. Rogers is the first-ever openly gay active player in Major League Soccer.
"He offers qualities we've been looking for," said Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena, focusing on Rogers' on-field play. "So we're hopeful in time Robbie's going to demonstrate the kinds of qualities he has previously in this league."
If the team can get the proper clearances in time, Rogers will be part of the Galaxy's 18-man roster on Sunday when they host the Seattle Sounders. Rogers last played in MLS for the Columbus Crew in 2011. He previously won the MLS Cup with the Crew in 2008.
Rogers talked about how his training sessions with the Galaxy in the last month helped overcome the anxiety he had about getting back into MLS. He said he's now at peace.
"I was kind of afraid to be back in an environment that kind of affected me in the past," Rogers said. "So I was nervous. After I initially got in here, everything was completely normal. Getting back on the pitch was amazing. I think if you look at the pictures, I had a huge smile on my face. But it was totally normal."
Rogers is the second MLS player ever to come out, following David Testo's announcement in 2011. He follows Jason Collins, Brittney Griner and Fallon Fox as some of the active professional athletes to come out publicly this year. While some dub Rogers the first active male professional team-sport athlete in the United States to be openly gay, that distinction belongs to Major League Lacrosse goalie Andrew Goldstein.
Rogers was acquired by the Galaxy in a one-for-one trade for the team's leading scorer, Mike Magee, who returns to his hometown of Chicago to play with the Fire. Rogers had refused to play for the Fire, saying he wanted to play near his family in Southern California.
When asked whether being gay helped him get a trade between the Fire and the Galaxy, Rogers said he believed it did.
"Yeah, I think if I were to come back to the league just saying, I want to play in L.A., they would have said, ‘no, you're playing in Chicago, they own your rights,'" Rogers said. "I guess it did benefit me in that way."
Just six weeks ago, Rogers could not have seen this day coming. Yet it was two incidents in April that Rogers said pushed him to return. The first was a talk he gave to youth via Nike in Portland, Ore. He said witnessing the bravery of those children was inspiring to him. The kicker was seeing clips of himself playing soccer while he was with the MLS and the smile he had on his face. After seeing that clip, he emailed Arena about training with the club.
Galaxy president Chris Klein said Rogers fits into the team's needs on three levels.
"When we look at players, we look at the contributions he can make on the field," Klein said. "We're hopeful that in due time we're going to see those. As part o the Galazy we look at character. And as you can all see today by the way Robbie speaks, he has that. And the third part is the Galaxy has always been an organization that blazed a trail in our league."
Josie Becker, manager of the LA Galaxy Confidential blog, thinks this is a "great move" for the Galaxy.
"One of their issues has been the width of the club," Becker said, "having someone who can really run the flanks and get the balls in. And Robbie Rogers is that guy. He could be a couple weeks off, but the talent doesn't go away. And off the field I know he'll have a lot of support here."
Rogers is aware of the role he will play on the team, and he is ready to take that step.
"I'm very motivated to prove myself," Rogers said. "I want to be better than I was before. I don't want to be the last cut for the World Cup team, I want to be on the World Cup team. I want to prove to everyone in this room, and everyone in this world, that I'm a great soccer player. It doesn't mater that I'm gay or where I'm from."
Longtime Galaxy leader Landon Donovan feels progress has already been made.
"In my opinion, it's already a success whether he plays one minute or a thousand minutes or ten thousand minutes," Donovan said. "It's already a big step in the right direction for our society as a whole, so I'm proud to be a part of it."
While many have been concerned with the potential "media circus" that could envelope a team with an openly gay athlete, Omar Gonzalez knows from past experience the team can handle it.
"We did have David Beckham here for quite a bit," Gonzalez said, "so I don't think the media circus is going to get as big as that. I think everyone is fine with all the media here coming in. I think Robbie is a great player and a great person, so with whatever comes with him coming to play with us, it's going to be fine. The only thing that matters is the on-field performance.
Robbie Keane said Rogers' coming out shows a difference between the sports culture of the United States and that of England, where Keane believes homophobia is more entrenched.
"You have to commend Robbie for coming out," Keane said. "He's the first professional soccer player to come out, so maybe he can lead the way for other people. But I think it's easier to cope with in America than in England, because I think maybe they're a little behind over there in regards to this situation. The fans are a bit more brutal over there. And that shouldn't be the case because it doesn't matter what you are or who you are. Everyone is the same. We go to the toilet the same way. There's no difference. Everyone should be equal."