Midfielder Robbie Rogers is about to become the first openly gay male to play in a major North American sports league – perhaps as soon as Sunday night against Seattle Sounders FC.
Rogers, who stepped away from soccer in February when he revealed his sexual orientation, was acquired Saturday by the Los Angeles Galaxy, which sent goals-leader Mike Magee to the Chicago Fire.
When the deal was announced, Rogers’ international clearance had not been received. However, Galaxy coach Bruce Arena said it was possible the paperwork would arrive before the 8 p.m. first kick of this nationally televised game. And if it does, Arena said Rogers will be on Los Angeles’ 18-man roster.
“I know Robbie sent me a text (Saturday) morning telling me that he hopes to see me on Sunday,” said Sounders coach Sigi Schmid, who coached Rogers from 2007-2008 at Columbus. “I said, ‘I hope to see you, but not on the field.’ ”
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Rogers was an MLS Best XI selection in 2008, when he helped
the Crew to its MLS Cup championship.
In a Saturday press conference he said he decided to return to soccer because he missed the game, and also because he came to believe he could be more of a role model than a distraction.
When Rogers stepped away from the game, several Sounders voiced their support and their belief that he would be welcomed by MLS players and fans.
Schmid echoed that Saturday.
“Everybody in their personal lives have things that make them different or unique to them in one way or another,” he said. “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 don’t think anybody should step away from an off-the-field situation if they can stay on the field. But it’s a great opportunity for him, and to make a statement. But at the end of the day, he’s going to get judged by his ability to play the game.”
In Los Angeles, Rogers joins a team used to the spotlight, and he will become part of a roster that already includes two of the biggest names in MLS: Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane.
However, Rogers’ arrival comes at the cost of Magee, who was leading the Galaxy with six goals.
“(Rogers) is more of an out-and-out winger, while Magee is more of a pseudo-winger/pseudo-forward and gets inside a little bit more,” Schmid said. “So it changes maybe a little bit how they play; and it will probably take a little bit of time to coordinate all that within their team.”
Also missing from the Galaxy roster is David Beckham, the international superstar who left Los Angeles after last season and has since announced his retirement. Beckham’s career officially ended Saturday when he wasn’t in Paris Saint-Germain’s lineup for its season-ending match.
The Sounders said this week that Beckham influenced the Galaxy on the pitch and brought attention to MLS on the field and off.
“He brought the recognition, especially when the league was struggling a couple of years ago,” said Seattle midfielder Shalrie Joseph, who was playing for New England when Beckham entered the league in 2007. “We weren’t getting the notice that we deserved, and he came in and he opened up people’s eyes a little bit. He brought crowds. He brought fans to all the away games. I remember 40-45,000 in Gillette Stadium (in Foxboro, Mass.) when he came in, and we never saw atmosphere like that. You’ve got to tip your hat for what he’s done for the league.”
Schmid offered a similar tribute. He also noted that the Galaxy will have to adjust now that those unique talents are no longer available.
“Beckham was the guy who could open the game up for them and could really change the point of attack and just had a marvelous ability to find guys away from the ball,” Schmid said. “And he was good at floating at midfield, and he was tough to pick up (at) times. So certainly they play a little bit different without him.”
SEATTLE SOUNDERS FC (4-3-3; 15 POINTS) AT LOS ANGELES GALAXY (5-4-2; 17)
8 p.m., Home Depot Center, Carson, Calif.
TV: ESPN2. Radio: 97.3-FM.
Head to head: Los Angeles leads, 4-3-2. Seattle took two of three regular-season meetings last season, with each team winning at home. The Galaxy is 4-0-1 over the Sounders’ last five visits to Home Depot Center.
Notes: Seattle comes in with a league-high three-game winning streak and a six-game unbeaten streak that ranks second in MLS. … The Sounders have scored four goals in each of their last two matches. Two more goals Sunday would match the club record of 10 goals in a three-game stretch. Lamar Neagle and Obafemi Martins each have goals in the last two games, marking the first time two Sounders have scored in consecutive matches. … Los Angeles has lost three of its past four. However, the Galaxy still leads MLS in goal differential (seven). Seattle is tied for fourth (five). … This is a rematch of the 2012 Western Conference final, which was won by the Galaxy on 4-2 aggregate. … Robbie Rogers, acquired by the Galaxy on Saturday, will be in the 18-man roster if his needed paperwork arrives on time. However, his arrival came at the cost of midfielder Mike Magee, who led the Galaxy with six goals. Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane have two goals each. … Sounders midfielder Mauro Rosales (shoulder) is listed as questionable, while Osvaldo Alonso (groin) and Steve Zakuani (abdomen) are expected to be held out. … The referee is Baldomero Toledo.
Quotable: “It’s a game where you know you’re going to get chances. You know that they’re going to get chances as well.” – Sounders coach Sigi Schmid on playing the Galaxy.
Next: The Sounders begin U.S. Open Cup play at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Tampa Bay Rowdies. Seattle returns to MLS play at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Chivas USA, right back in Carson, Calif.