LA Galaxy bank on Robbie Rogers' potential, eye Seattle Sounders match as possible debut
CARSON, Calif. – Robbie Rogers is officially, a professional soccer player again, and he couldn't be happier.
The 26-year-old winger, who in February retired from the game when he revealed that he was gay, was introduced as the LA Galaxy's newest acquisition Saturday afternoon after the club traded Mike Magee to Chicago for his rights.
He could make his debut Sunday night, when LA take on the Seattle Sounders at the Home Depot Center (11 pm ET, ESPN2; Live Chat on MLSsoccer.com). He won't be eligible to play until his International Transfer Certificate is in hand, which the club hopes will occur before Sunday's kickoff, and if it does, Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena said, he anticipates Rogers will be part of the team's 18-man roster.
If he doesn't appear Sunday he could debut in Wednesday's US Open Cup clash against the Carolina RailHawks in North Carolina, and he's excited for the chance to again play the sport he loves.
He didn't believe he could do so as an openly gay man, which prompted him to sever ties with Leeds United – the English club he'd been affiliated with since he left the Columbus Crew after the 2011 MLS season – and announce in a post on his blog that he was leaving from the game.
“I felt like I could step away from soccer,” Rogers said at a news conference Saturday. “I actually thought I wouldn't miss it that much, and I missed it more and more, and then I saw some clips of me just training [from my days] in Columbus, just fooling around. ... So I said, 'OK, I'll just come back and train, see how that is.'
“After that, it was so normal, and I felt that passion again, just made it so easy," he added. "But I really actually thought that I was going to step away from soccer – crazy, as I look back on it. This has been a learning experience for me. This has been a process.”
Rogers was welcomed into training by the Galaxy at the end of April – no promises, just an opportunity to participate – and talks with Chicago about acquiring his rights began a “few weeks” ago, Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena said. The winger, who grew up in Southern California's South Bay and Orange County regions, had made it clear that if he was going to return to the game, he wanted to do so near his family.
If it couldn't be that way, he said, “I possibly could have just stayed retired.”
The Galaxy gave up one of their most important players to acquire Rogers' rights – the club says Magee wanted to return to Chicago, where he's from, for personal reasons – and Arena said the qualities he'll bring to the team have long been desired.
“We've been searching for the last year or two for a player that has the skills to be a flank player, play wide, add a little speed to our club, take on players, good crosser of the ball with both of his feet,” Arena said. “He offers qualities that we've been looking for, so we're hopeful that in time Robbie's going to demonstrate the kind of quality he has previously in this league as a former All-Star and a member of a championship team as well.
"We're quite excited about having Robbie here, and we're looking forward to his contributions not only this season, but in the future as well.”
How quickly Rogers can contribute, however, isn't certain.
“Robbie's been away from the game for probably five months or so, and it's going to take time, and we're going to slowly build him into it,” Arena said. “No great expectations in the early going. We'll need to give him a little bit of time, he'll need to get his proper minutes in games before we can anticipate [he] will be a player competing for a starting position.”
Rogers said he's making progress every day.
“Like Bruce said, I'm going to need games,” he said. “That the most important [thing], I think, for an athlete, to actually get into real game situations. I can't put a frame on it either. I think it's just going to be a matter of when it's possible for me to be in those kind of game situations. I'm not sure. But, hopefully, not too long.”
Rogers says he wants to become the player he'd hoped to be, before he decided he had to step away.
“I'm very motivated to prove myself,” Rogers said. “I don't want to be the last cut from the World Cup team, I want to be on the World Cup team. I want to prove to everybody in this room and everyone in the world that I'm a great footballer, a great soccer player. It doesn't matter that I'm gay, it doesn't matter where I'm from. That stuff's not important.”