With the announcement Saturday that the LA Galaxy have completed a trade to land Robbie Rogers, Major League Soccer enters a new era.
Rogers, 26, becomes not only the first openly gay player to compete in the league’s 18-year history, but he’s also the only openly gay athlete in any of North America’s five major sports leagues.
"I am proud to welcome Robbie Rogers, a courageous man and a terrific soccer player, back to Major League Soccer,” MLS Commissioner Don Garber said. “We look forward to Robbie's contributions on and off the field."
Rogers' decision to return to the playing field comes several weeks after NBA veteran Jason Collins came out in an essay published in Sports Illustrated. Collins, who reached out to Rogers for advice on dealing with the media after his revelation, will become a free agent in July and it’s unclear if he’ll resign a contract to return to the NBA for the 2013-14 season.
That leaves Rogers, 26, as a pioneer of sorts on the pro sports landscape, after he revealed he is gay via a candid late-night post on his personal blog in February. A former star with the Columbus Crew who leveraged his success to 18 appearances with the US national team, Rogers left MLS following the 2011 season for a short-lived stint in England. He agreed to part ways with Championship side Leeds United in January, a month before he stated he would walk away from the game for good.
The Galaxy, Chicago Fire and Seattle Sounders openly stated they would welcome him after he decided earlier this spring to resume training. Chicago, who held his rights following an offseason trade with the Columbus Crew, dealt Rogers to the Galaxy for MLS veteran and two-time MLS Cup winner Mike Magee.
“I think it’s all about [Rogers] as a soccer player at this stage," said Sounders head coach Sigi Schmid, who coached Rogers in Columbus and said Saturday that the Sounders inquired with Chicago to bring Rogers to Seattle. "It’s about him getting back on the field, him playing well, him getting back to the level where he was a national team player, and I think that’s what the focus has got to be. Everybody in their personal lives has things that make them different or are unique to them in one way or another, but I think the focus on the soccer field is what you do on the soccer field. For me, I’m happy that Robbie is back. I’m happy that he’s playing...
"... It’s a great opportunity for him to make a statement. At the end of the day, he’s going to get judged by his ability to play the game.”
Galaxy coach Bruce Arena said in the club's press conference on Saturday that, if Rogers gets official clearance to play, he will be part of the squad in LA's home clash with the Seattle Sounders on Sunday night (11 pm ET, ESPN2, live chat on MLSsoccer.com), and if he doesn’t play this weekend, he could debut in the team’s US Open Cup match on Wednesday against the Carolina RailHawks in Cary, N.C.