CARSON, Calif. – Robbie Rogers struggled to find his form this year, to locate a way back to the player he once was and do the things that had him just one step from the last World Cup, but he can hardly look on 2013 with disappointment.
He's gone through an immense and almost entirely positive change in the last year, since coming out as gay to, first, his family and then the public, an acknowledgment he thought would keep him off the soccer field the rest of his days.
When you're able to be your true self, able to overcome great fear after years protecting a secret to devastating effect, a difficult battle with on-field form isn't really much of a hiccup, he said.
Which isn't to say that Rogers isn't aware that he needs to be much better on the field and contribute far more to the LA Galaxy in 2014.
“There's so many things I need to improve on,” Rogers said this week as Galaxy players cleaned out their lockers for the offseason. “You know, finishing and getting better crosses in and all that stuff. But as I got back from injuries and as the games went on, I felt I got better and better.
"There's a lot of work I need to put into this offseason. I still want to get back where I was before. There's a lot of work I need to do. It's obvious.”
Rogers, 26, had been away from the game for nearly a half a year when he began training in late April before signing in May with the Galaxy, who sent Mike Magee to Chicago for the winger's rights. Fitness was an issue and injuries, especially with a difficult rehab from a torn hamstring, prevented him from finding his game, although he was providing real hints in the season's final weeks.
“The Robbie Rogers we remember was a guy that was a threat,” associate head coach Dave Sarachan said, “just a real threat, getting forward, getting behind the defender, getting consistency in service, and at the end of a 90-minute match having something to show for it, whether an assist or a goal or a threatening play.
"Robbie didn't quite have that consistency this year, so coming in next year, of all the components – of fitness, the technical, confidence – all that needs to be ramped up.”
Rogers played in 11 MLS regular-season games, with seven starts, plus the two playoff games, a couple of CONCACAF Champions League matches, another in the US Open Cup, the three August friendlies and a pair of Reserve League matches. And his numbers weren't good: just one assist, in a win over FC Dallas in early July. It's not nearly enough.
“He has to be better next year,” head coach Bruce Arena said. “He has to start the year better and position himself to play. He got his feet back on the ground this year, but the final product has to be better for Robbie.”
“My expectations of myself are coming in [next year] and being one of the most fit guys and being able to have a great preseason,” he said. “And then fighting for a spot to really help this team and be dangerous and contribute every week. Try to stay injury free and try to be more of a presence on this team.
“This year I came in late and was kind of struggling all season, to be honest. But I think for the Galaxy to really be successful, they need more guys to contribute, and I know I can be one of those guys. I know I can.”
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Just being on the field this year was a victory for Rogers, who didn't believe there was a place in the men's team-sport landscape for an openly gay athlete.
“It's been a crazy year for me, from first initially just coming out to my family and then to the public and never thinking I was going to touch a soccer field again and then to just coming back to training and playing for the Galaxy,” said Rogers, who grew up just a few miles from the StubHub Center. “It's been an emotional roller-coaster.
“It's been amazing to be with the Galaxy – the option they gave me and how supportive the guys have been in the locker room has been something a year ago I could not have imagined. So without being too hard on myself and being disappointed with the results at the end of the season, if I would look back at this time last year, I've more than exceeded my expectations for just overcoming mostly, I guess, just that fear of thinking I couldn't be an athlete and be gay at the same time.
"Now, hopefully, I can move forward and just be a soccer player.”