CARSON, Calif. – Robbie Rogers is officially a member of the LA Galaxy.
The process to bring Rogers to the Galaxy wasn’t an easy one as the club dealt fan-favorite Mike Magee to the Chicago Fire in exchange for Rogers’ rights.
READ: A letter from Mike Magee
For all the rancor about the decision to deal away a fan favorite, the day is a momentous one as Rogers becomes the first openly gay professional soccer player to suit up in MLS and American professional sports history.
Should the Galaxy receive his International Transfer Certificate by Sunday, there is a strong chance that Rogers will be in the game day roster the club’s game against Seattle Sounders FC on Sunday. If he plays, it would be an historic occasion.
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“For 25 years, I’ve been afraid to share a secret with someone,” Rogers said during his introductory press conference Saturday at The Home Depot Center. “And I finally did that. I kept my secret because I thought I couldn’t be both a soccer player and a gay athlete. I was afraid to be back in an environment that affected me in the past. After I finally got in here, everything was completely normal.”
The unveiling was a taxing one as Rogers went through a full-90 minutes of media availability that was focused largely on his place as the first openly gay professional athlete. However, it was of little issue to Rogers, who is ecstatic to be a trailblazer for the LGBT community as well as those, who may disagree with him.
“I think it is great to share this message with athletes and people around the world, and I hope it reaches people,” Rogers said. “They need to see that I’m just like their son, that I’m an athlete that loves to play sports and I’m excited to get back to my sport.”
Where Rogers will ultimately be judged, however, is not by his sexual orientation, but by his ability to perform on the field. Before retiring, the former Columbus Crew, Leeds United, and Stevenage man was a dynamic winger with ability to play on both flanks. In 2010, he almost made the U.S. roster for the 2010 World Cup but was one of the final cuts.
WATCH: Robie Rogers trains with the Galaxy (4/30/2013)
The one-time U.S. international has been training with the Galaxy for about a month and while his fitness is still a concern after his time away from the game, LA head coach Bruce Arena believes that he can provide a new dimension to the team.
“We’ve been searching for the last year or two for a player that has the skills to be a flank player, play wide and add a little speed to our club, take on players and [be a] good crosser of the ball with both of his feet,” said Arena. “He offers qualities that we’ve been looking for and we’re hopeful that in time, Robbie will demonstrate the kind of qualities that he has previously in this league.”
Rogers’ new teammates are quick to agree with their head coach about the on the field and off the field impact.
“He’s getting better and better, but Robbie needs games. Just like any player that’s been away for a while, you need games,” said Landon Donovan “But he’s very excited, so whenever he gets on the field, we’ll be really excited for him.”
“No matter who you are or what you are, everyone is the same. We go to the toilet the same way; we do things the same way. There’s no difference,” said Galaxy captain Robbie Keane. “Everyone should be equal…It’s 2013 for Christ sakes. People move on and to each their own.”
Off the field, Galaxy President Chris Klein admits that it is vital for the Galaxy to be ahead of the curve when it comes to decisions and Rogers’ addition is just the latest move.
“When we look at players or people that are part of our club, we look at the contributions that they can make on the field and we’re hopeful that in due time that he makes it back that we’re going to see that,” Klein said. “We’re confident in that. As part of the Galaxy, we look at character and as you can all see by the way that Robbie speaks that he has that.
“The Galaxy has always been an organization that has blazed a trail in our league. We’ve done it in different areas and we can continue to do that,” Klein added. “MLS and soccer as sport in this country is a place where we can do that and the Galaxy has always been at the head of that.”
For all the talk of his character or blazing a trail as the first openly gay professional athlete, Rogers knows that he’ll be judged by his performance on the field. That process starts with Sunday’s match against Seattle.
Rogers and the Galaxy are hopeful that the club will receive his ITC in time and Arena has stated that he’ll be placed in the game day roster if the club receives his transfer documents in time.
As he seeks to make an impact on the Galaxy, he’ll have to win over those segments of the fan base who were displeased about the deal that sent Magee back to his native Chicago. It won’t be easy, but ultimately, that’s all that Rogers has ever wanted: to be judged for his merits, not his orientation.
“They want to win. It’s great for them, those are the ones that [my sexual orientation] isn’t a big deal to them,” Rogers said. “I applaud them because it’s not a big deal for them that I’m a gay athlete. All I can say to them is that I hope to be better and I hope to be an exciting player to watch, so I’m excited for that challenge to win them over.”
And how will it be for him to just step on the field for the first time, if he is thrown into the squad against Seattle or possibly some future game?
“When you’re an athlete, you step on the field then you don’t think about that kind of stuff. I think it’ll be quite natural and normal,” said Rogers. “I think maybe after I have time to take everything in … I’ll think that this has been quite a journey for me.”
An exciting future lies ahead, not only for me but for our society. instagram.com/p/Zv8Z1cp3Wh/— Robbie Rogers (@robbierogers) May 25, 2013
Adam Serrano is the LA Galaxy Insider. Read his blog at LAGalaxy.com/Insider and contact him at LAGalaxyInsider@Gmail.com