Robbie Rogers a Winner in Galaxy Loss
Editor’s note: When the LA Galaxy played the Carolina Railhawks in the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup in June, Robbie Rogers was not the only gay soccer player in the stadium. Former college player Stephen Bickford was on hand to watch, and had some reflections on watching Rogers play.
A year has passed and we’re back to where we started. The Railhawks hosted the Los Angeles Galaxy in the US Open cup for the third consecutive year, and I come to you with another article about the Galaxy’s openly gay player, Robbie Rogers. This year, the result was the same in two ways. The Railhawks won, and Rogers gave a good account of himself.
However, there’s far more depth to this year’s Robbie Rogers than the Rogers who was playing in his first road game for his new club last season. Robbie Rogers has shown a lot to fans, pundits, his teammates, and his coach this past year. He was able to come out from under the weight of being “America’s first openly gay athlete in a major professional sport.” And he has handle the pressure and celebrity that have come from it with incredible courage, strength, humility and grace.
To his club, he has proven that he is able to make the transition from an attacking winger into a wing back, without being a defensive liability as we so often see in players who attempt to make the same switch. Rogers has truly blossomed this season into an important player who has earned the respect of his teammates, and especially his coach. As I stood behind the Galaxy bench this evening taking photos of the match, I couldn’t help but hear coach Bruce Arena’s constant shouts of “ROBBIE ROGERS! GET THE BALL TO ROBBIE!” an innumerable amount of times. This shows Arena’s confidence in the abilities of his wing back while going forward, both with the ball at his feet, and when being played through on goal.
Unfortunately, as with in this same match last year, Rogers was woefully under-utilized. However, even when not fed the ball (sometimes even with acres of space in front of him) Rogers didn’t show his frustration outwardly, as so many players do. This shows the class of this extremely talented and versatile player. It wasn’t until deep into the second half, and injury time, that Rogers began to receive the ball on a more regular basis. When he did have the ball, he was fantastic, completing almost all of his passes, serving in crosses, and getting in a blistering shot on goal. But alas, nothing seemed to be able to work out the way the Galaxy wanted, and they weren’t able to find the net.
I was left feeling very torn, both during and after the match. This Is my hometown team. A team I’ve supported every season since its inception, and one whose players have been those I’ve played with, against, and even coached at some point in my life. This is a team close to my heart. That being said, Robbie Rogers is–and always will be–a player who is also close to my heart. When he had the courage to come out, it was one of the happiest days of my life. When I saw how America reacted to his decision to be open about his sexuality and how much he was supported, it was a feeling that I personally didn’t think I’d feel for years to come. America was embracing a gay athlete wholeheartedly on a very large scale. I was simply overjoyed, and I had him to thank for it.
As the game drew on, with the Galaxy still desperately trying to find a goal, seeing the frustration and disappointment in Rogers’ eyes after every pass that didn’t quite connect. Every cross that barely missed its mark, or connected but didn’t find the net. Every shot that deflected into a defender–I felt for him. I felt the urgency, the pressure, and the frustration that I used to feel when put into similar situations as a player. It brought back emotions I haven’t experienced in years, and it was rather overwhelming. However, it was invigorating and powerful to be able to experience these types of feelings and emotions again, just by seeing that same hunger in Robbie Rogers’ eyes.
When it comes down to it, Robbie will forever be remembered in history for being the first American international soccer player to come out of the closet. A player who changed the way American sports fans viewed openly gay players, and he should be. However, I’ll always remember him for the player he is. The tenacious, intelligent, fearless, fighter of a player that he is. The one who goes every second at 100% without ever quitting or ever backing down to anyone. The one who has faced more adversity in the past few years of his life than many people will experience in a lifetime. Robbie Rogers is a champion in every sense of the word. And I personally cannot wait to see what is yet to come for the duration of his career.
Photos provided by Stephen Bickford.