By Jim Peltz
8:31 PM EDT, July 19, 2013
Now that he's made sports history, can the Galaxy's Robbie Rogers make some plays?
Rogers has yet to reach his full playing potential since making his Galaxy debut May 26, becoming the first openly gay male athlete to compete in one of the five major U.S. professional team sports.
The 26-year-old midfielder from Huntington Beach had left soccer for several months before joining the Galaxy, but he is improving as his team seeks its third consecutive Major League Soccer championship.
Rogers played the full 90 minutes of a game for the first time in helping the Galaxy to a 2-0 win over FC Dallas at StubHub Center a week ago. Rogers had his first assist in that game, and twice narrowly missed scoring his first Galaxy goal.
But then Rogers played only 70 minutes Saturday in the Galaxy's 2-1 loss to the Portland Timbers, as Galaxy Coach Bruce Arena pulled Rogers for a substitute in hopes of sparking another goal.
"Every game I'm making progress," Rogers said. "It's going to take a few more 90s," or full games, and "that's when you really have to push it and stretch for those extra bits of energy."
Rogers revealed he is gay in February, during a period when he had all but quit the game after his career began declining. "I thought I was done," he said.
Twice a high school All-American at Santa Ana Mater Dei, Rogers played for the U.S. national team, the MLS' Columbus Crew and two European teams. In December he parted ways with Leeds United of England and stopped playing.
But in April the Galaxy asked the Chicago Fire, which owned Rogers' MLS rights, if Rogers could train with the Galaxy.
"I had no goals in mind," Rogers said. But soon a trade was made, with him joining the Galaxy and Mike Magee going to Chicago.
Given his layoff, however, Rogers' fitness and performance lagged those of his teammates. He also had to learn how to play with those new teammates.
Six weeks later, Rogers has built up his stamina, but he's still "in a position where he's coming out of preseason [training], so he has to catch up to the rest of the group," Arena said.
"We've seen that even with a player like Landon" Donovan, who took an extended sabbatical before rejoining the Galaxy in late March, Arena said. "It took Landon a long period of time to get up to speed with the rest of the team, and that's been the case with Robbie as well."
As for the 5-foot-10, 165-pound Rogers, "over the last couple weeks we've seen him make some good progress, and we're hopeful it continues," Arena said.
Galaxy forward Robbie Keane said that now that Rogers' historic step of speaking out about his sexual orientation is behind the team, the players needs Rogers in peak form for a full game. "Whatever happens off the field is none of my business as long as he's doing the business on the field, which he's doing," Keane said.
Rogers is using his fame to discuss his decision to come out publicly as gay. For instance, he's on the latest cover of the sports issue of Out magazine, a gay publication. "I realized that with the platform I have, that it would be nice to do the interview and kind of speak about my experiences," Rogers said.
But on the pitch, Rogers' sexual orientation has "never been an issue with us," Arena said. "The issue is: Can he help us on the field?"
Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times