CARSON, Calif. – The crowd of 24,811 at The Home Depot Center and countless others watching on television across the world witnessed history on Sunday night as Robbie Rogers, the first openly gay male professional athlete in major American team sports made his debut for the LA Galaxy.
Rogers entered the LA Galaxy’s 4-0 victory over Seattle Sounders FC on Sunday in the 77th minute, replacing a visibly elated Juninho in front of a jovial crowd that included much of Rogers’ immediate family and friends. The impact that he had on the game was minute as he connected just three of four passes while being dispossessed twice, but the 26-year-old was well-aware of the impact that he made socially.
Before the game, he admitted there were a few jitters as he even needed to call his older sister Alicia for a quick chat about his dog to settle his nerves as he drove to The Home Depot Center. But once he drove through the gates, everything was back to normal, which is an important word for Rogers these days.
“You could see it on my face; I had a huge smile of enjoyment. Okay, I’m back, this is normal and very supportive,” Rogers told reporters in a postgame press conference just a day after being acquired in a trade that sent Mike Magee to the Chicago Fire. “I keep saying the word: normal, normal, but it was. Once I got on and I saw the support, I just zoned in...It was good to be back and I’m excited to move on from here.”
After stepping onto the field, Rogers was able to focus on contributing to a Galaxy team that had long since dispatched the Sounders. There was little that Rogers was able to do as he attempted to add a dimension to the Galaxy attack as they pushed for a fifth, but it was ultimately not to be.
However, that doesn’t mean that Rogers was displeased with his performance and didn’t see the chance to be successful in the future in a Galaxy uniform.
“It wasn’t too bad,” Rogers, who admitted that he feels fit enough to go maybe ‘30 or 40’ minutes, said of his performance. “I think the real test will come maybe Wednesday [against the Carolina RailHawks in the U.S. Open Cup], maybe on the weekend [against the New England Revolution] when the field is a little tighter. I think that The Home Depot Center was made for soccer players like me, the guys that run and dangerous guys, because there is so much space. That’s really exciting and I’m excited for future games. Stepping on the field, I just enjoyed it.”
Rogers’ contributions soccer-wise may have been small. A pass here, a dangerous run up field there or even a shout to a teammate on a play, but Rogers’ courage provided a source of inspiration for Landon Donovan.
“For me, it’s inspiring in that it’s OK to be who we are,” said Donovan. “We all have differences, we all have things were going through and for him to accept who he is and be proud of who he is I think inspires all of us both as athletes and as people."
Now that the debut is over and the roar of the crowd has subsided, Rogers must begin his focus on becoming a vital contributor for the Galaxy. The fact that audible “Magee is on fire” chants could be heard from The HDC crowd after he came on is a testament of the legacy of both Magee, but also of expectations that he faces.
LA Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena cited Landon Donovan’s return from his period away from the game when mentioning the task that is ahead of Rogers.
“In a lot of ways, the easy part is over, now the difficult part remains. That is to get him positioned to play and that is going to take some time. There is no science to it,” said Arena. “You see Landon Donovan…he came at the end of March and now we’re approaching June. A player of Landon’s skill and ability and not being away from the game as much as Rogers and it’s taken Landon awhile so our expectations for Robbie are not any big in the near future. It’s going to just take time.”
Even Galaxy captain Robbie Keane admitted that he hopes that Rogers will be able to focus on honing his soccer skills now that his much ballyhooed debut is out of the way.
“I’m sure that he’s delighted to get that off his back,” said Keane. ‘Now it’s time after this press conference that he can concentrate on being totally part of the team and being a Galaxy player.”
Rogers will look to make that transition starting on Wednesday when he will join the Galaxy for their U.S. Open Cup Third Round game against the Carolina RailHawks. However, for now, he’ll like to reflect on what was a “perfect” day.
“We won, my family was here, my friends, my grandparents, who live in Palos Verdes. I think that the first training session that the Galaxy ever at The Home Depot Center, I was training with the Galaxy when [Seattle Sounders FC and former Columbus Crew boss] Sigi [Schmid] was coach,” said Rogers. “I’ve been on this huge journey to figure out my life and now I’m here where I’m supposed to be.”
Whether or not he’ll be successful in regaining the form that made him a U.S. National Team player and MLS All-Star with the Columbus remains to be seen, but Rogers is well-aware that the events of Sunday night will stick with him forever.
“It’s crazy to me to think that I stepped away from this game at 25-years-old,” said Rogers. “Tonight, I’ll just sit in my bed and reflect that God gave me the courage to do this and to come back. Obviously, to something that I love, but obviously, something that will help kids my age who are dealing with the same stuff that I am.”
Adam Serrano is the LA Galaxy Insider. Read his blog at LAGalaxy.com/Insider and contact him at LAGalaxyInsider@Gmail.com