By Ivan Yeo
One of the more impactful athletes is calling it quits.
Robbie Rogers of the Los Angeles Galaxy, the first openly athlete to play in a North American sports league announced his retirement from professional soccer. Rogers, a key member of the Galaxy backline for three seasons, missed all of the 2017 season due to nerve damage in his left ankle.
“It is with mixed emotions that I announce my retirement from the game of soccer,” said Rogers in a statement released by the Galaxy. “It is through this game that I have experienced some of my greatest achievements both professionally and personally and I am forever indebted to the numerous individuals – coaches, teammates, staff and fans – that have helped me during this journey.”
Rogers made headlines in February of 2013 when he announced he was gay. Rogers had also announced his retirement a first time that same day, but a speech delivered at an LGBT youth development camp in Portland in April of that year, followed by an invitation to train with the Galaxy by Bruce Arena, then the head coach and general manager, convinced Rogers to return to the game.
The Chicago Fire held Rogers’ rights via a trade with the Columbus Crew, but Rogers, who attended high school in Southern California, wanted to play for the Galaxy so that he could be close to his family and friends. A trade was made between the Galaxy and Fire on May 24, 2013. However, it was the player that Chicago got back in the trade, Mike Magee, that sent shockwaves across the league. Magee had ascended to cult-like status among Galaxy fans for his clutch playoff performances in the Galaxy’s back-to-back championship seasons of 2011 and 2012, and Magee was scoring goals in bunches to start the 2013 season. Rogers made his debut for the Galaxy on May 26, and saw extensive playing time in the LA midfield the remainder of the season. Rogers however struggle to find his place on the Galaxy squad, while Magee went on to win MVP honors that season.
Rogers started the 2014 season on the disabled list, but a position switch upon his return revived Rogers and eventually, the Galaxy that year. Arena moved Rogers out of the midfield and into the left back position, and Rogers made the adjustment quite well, as his ability to push forward combined with his positioning benefited the Galaxy, who went from a middle-of-the-pack team to almost beating out the Seattle Sounders for the Supporters Shield. Nevertheless, Rogers’ contributions helped the Galaxy reclaim the MLS Cup in 2014.
“I want to personally thank Mr. Anschutz, Dan Beckerman and the entire AEG family for the opportunities and continual support they have given me during my time with the LA Galaxy,” Rogers said.
“I would like to thank Bruce Arena for encouraging me to return to professional soccer after I came out as a gay man. I’d also like to thank all of my LA Galaxy teammates for accepting me from the first day I stepped back into the locker room at StubHub Center. Finally, I’d like to thank the fans for their continued support throughout my career. I’ll never forget the feeling of returning to the field in my first game back. That feeling of acceptance and support pushed me as an athlete and as a person.”
Rogers continued to feature for the Galaxy at Left Back in 2015, and scored his first goal in a Galaxy shirt on June 25 against Portland, which was fittingly Pride Night at the StubHub Center. Rogers switched over to right back in 2016 following the team’s acquisition of Ashley Cole and made 21 appearances, but his production was limited due to the same ankle problems that eventually forced him to miss all of 2017 and ultimately force his retirement.
“Robbie Rogers has been an integral part of our club and our community since he joined the LA Galaxy in 2013,” said Chris Klein, LA Galaxy President. “During his time in Los Angeles, Robbie has been an elite athlete and a good teammate. He helped lead our club to a championship in 2014 while breaking barriers and being a force for positive change in our sport and in our community. We want to thank Robbie for his time with the LA Galaxy and wish him the best of luck in the next step of his career.”
Before his Galaxy career, Rogers had enjoyed success at other places. Rogers played one year of college soccer in 2005 for the Maryland Terrapins, where he lead them to an NCAA title. His performance caught the eye of Dutch club Heerenveen, who signed Rogers in August of 2006. Rogers however could not make the first team for Heerenveen, and the two sides parted ways in February of 2007.
Rogers signed with MLS in March of 2007 and the Columbus Crew won his rights. Rogers eventually established himself for the Crew, making 138 appearances, scoring 17 goals and making two all-star appearances all the while leading the Crew to two Supporters’ Shields and an MLS Cup title in 2008. Rogers parlayed his success in Columbus into a contract with Leeds United in December 2011. Rogers however was hampered by injuries, which limited him to just four appearances with the club, and Rogers left Leeds on February 15, 2013, just weeks before his announcement he was gay.
Rogers has also made several appearances for the US national team. Rogers earned 18 caps for the senior team, played in the 2008 Olympics and scored a goal in Jurgen Klinsmann’s first game as USMNT head coach. Rogers is also a member of the National Gay and Lesbian Sports Hall of Fame.