Best of 2013: Robbie Rogers' trade to LA Galaxy the Controversy of the Year
MLSsoccer.com polled 20 of our editors, writers, videographers and statistics specialists to bring you the Best of 2013, running Dec. 23 through Jan. 1. Each day, we'll hand out an award in a variety of categories culled from the storylines of MLS, including Biggest Controversy, Gaffe of the Year and, via fan vote revealed on Dec. 30, the Moment of the Year.
LA Galaxy beat writer Scott French offers up the Controversy of the Year, when Robbie Rogers returned to Major League Soccer in May and said he wouldn't play for the Chicago Fire. The trade that ensued – Rogers to the Galaxy and Mike Magee to the Fire – ended up as easily the most lopsided trade of the year, and one of the most talked-about moves in league history.
The LA Galaxy were bidding for an unprecedented threepeat after winning the 2011 and 2012 MLS Cup titles, but they watched their championship chances take a tumble after making one of the most controversial trades in league history.
Mike Magee's imprint was all over the Galaxy's four-year run under Bruce Arena – with the MLS Cup crowns, three title-game appearances, two Supporters' Shields and four straight Western Conference Championships, and he was off to a terrific start, with six goals in the first seven games, in Landon Donovan's extended absence.
Former Columbus Crew winger Robbie Rogers had revealed in February that he was gay and, because he couldn't see continuing his career as a homosexual, announced his retirement. He missed the game, and his hometown Galaxy afforded him the opportunity to train starting in late April. By mid-May, LA were in talks with the Chicago Fire about his MLS rights, because Rogers insisted he wouldn't play in Chicago.
The trade came down on May 25, with LA sending Magee back home – he's a Chicago guy who wanted to raise his daughter near his and his family – for Rogers, who became the first openly gay man to play in top-tier North American team sports. It rankled Galaxy fans and made their team considerably weaker.
What irked the team's supporters was, of course, not Rogers' sexuality, but rather what they were losing in Magee, and the chemistry he'd helped build over the years. What, exactly, had Rogers done in recent years that indicated he could help them to a third straight MLS Cup?
- BEST OF 2013: The complete schedule of awards
Magee went on to score 15 more goals for the Fire, nearly lift them into the playoffs and win the MLS Most Valuable Player award. Rogers, who hadn't played in half a year when he signed, struggled with fitness and a few injuries and ailments – including a hamstring that he tore twice, plus an intestinal virus that slowed his recovery – and he contributed just one assist in 16 competitive first-team games. He made just 11 MLS appearances, seven as a starter.
Rogers, who was among the final cuts from the 2010 World Cup team, began finding his form only at the finish. LA's young attack struggled when Donovan or Robbie Keane were absent or off their games, scenarios in which Magee had long thrived, and the team was eliminated in the Western Conference Semifinals, its earliest playoff ousting since 2003.
The most lopsided trade in MLS history? Perhaps. But certainly the Controversy of the Year.
The Rebaño Angelino went through another rebuilding campaign in 2013, their fourth in as many seasons, and this one topped them all: two more coaches in and gone, a revolving door for players, more front-office turmoil, just six wins (and 20 losses), another last-place finish in the West, and average announced crowds of a little more than 8,300, with StubHub Center gatherings often less than half of that.
José Luis “El Chelís” Sánchez Solá, hired to replace Robin Fraser, lasted only until the end of May, and José Luis Real's arrival spurred a huge step forward for Chivas USA, with the acquisitions of former US national team captain Carlos Bocanegra and promising Mexican forward Erick “Cubo” Torres advancing the cause, but they're searching for another new coach now that “Guero” has taken charge at sister club CD Guadalajara.
Part of the modern MLS's expansion strategy is that new clubs have great stadium deals before the OK arrives. New York City FC became MLS's 20th team in May without such a deal, and their hoped-for stadium site in Flushing Meadows, Queens, soon disappeared. Frustrating? Especially for the burgeoning fan base.
With no Plan B in place, everyone with an interest started looking, and now reports have a $400 million stadium all but certain for a site down the street from Yankee Stadium. That would be a good fit: The Yankees own 20 percent of NYCFC, which would play their first few seasons – 2015, 2016 and perhaps 2017 – in The House That Ruth Built.