This morning Robbie Rogers put to rest some of the speculation about whether or not he would return to Major League Soccer and his destination if he did indeed decide to play. During a radio interview with "Soccer Today", Rogers said that a return this season is something he's considering. After spending a week in training with the Los Angeles Galaxy he shed some light on his future plans saying there was "a really good chance" he would play this season.
“To be honest, I had no plans of going back to football at all and definitely not this soon. But I was looking over some video clips that MLS sent to, I think it was CNN or ABC, of me just training, fooling around and just enjoying football. And it kind of just like, ‘Oh my gosh, I miss this stuff," said Rogers.
“I just need a bit more time to evaluate and to see how things play out, but I’ve really enjoyed myself [with the Galaxy]. It feels normal to be back. I’ve grown up playing soccer my whole life. I’ve always been on a soccer field, so I feel at home on a soccer field,” he continued.
The kicker is Rogers apparently has no interest in playing for the team that currently holds his MLS rights. Even before the Fire acquired his rights from Columbus in the Duka-for-Oduro deal, the knowledgeable speculation was that he would return to MLS at some point after failing to make an impact in England but that some point involved a West Coast club. A native of California, one can't begrudge Rogers for wanting to play closer to home upon returning to the States.
His decision to come out in March doesn't change the fact that his desire all along was to play closer to home if he did play again after suffering through various injuries since leaving the league for Leeds United after the 2011 season. His decision not play in Chicago doesn't come as a shock to anyone and I suspect the Fire's desire upon acquiring him was to leverage his rights as a trading chip despite maintaining all along that they wanted him to join the club once he decided to return to MLS.
"I don’t want to go to Chicago. I think if it comes down to you can only play in Chicago, then I probably won’t go back. I need to do it somewhere where I’m totally 100 percent comfortable so I would most likely do it closest to my family. I’m not closing the doors or saying no to anyone else that I’ve talked to but that would be my priority," Rogers told Soccer Today.
Rogers' situation brings back memories of the Fire's acquisition of Brian McBride in 2008. After deciding to return to MLS, McBride decided he wanted to play closer to home and preferred to play only in Chicago. Toronto FC, the club that held his rights at the time was "encouraged" to make a deal that involved Chad Barrett, a first round Super Draft pick, and allocation considerations. A trade to the home team is where the comparison stops however. Robbie Rogers, his personal situation and the weight of being the first openly gay athlete to play a major league sport in America aside (despite some pundits in mass media only calling the "Big 4" major) is no Brian McBride.
McBride returned to MLS after a successful career at Fulham and the USMNT. His value at the time merited a trade for a striker, draft pick, and more. Rogers returns as a player with some value but he's never really been more than a "good" MLS player and one who failed to make a dent after leaving to play overseas at that. A healthy and fit Rogers would certainly be an asset worth adding to your club if the price was right and if he fit into your budget but the reality is he's a complimentary piece that would fit better in LA than he would in Chicago from a strictly football perspective.
His injury history is also a concern. Rogers played in a mere 4 matches while at Leeds and only another 6 while on loan at Stevenage. An ankle injury slowed his progress in England and kept him from finding a club this winter. His decision to come out and take a leave from football changes the dynamic of his return and certainly places the media spotlight on him as a player. His eventual return should be applauded as a brave moment in American sports and a monumental step in the fight for equality that should never really have been an issue in the first place. He has every right to want to face those challenges with the support of friends and family close to home. No one should begrudge him for that.
By the same token no one should begrudge the Fire for wanting to capitalize on the trading chip and asking for as much as possible from Los Angeles in return. Many have mentioned that the club should insist on Mike Magee and more in exchange. Some have suggested young starlets Jack McBean or Jose Villareal. The fact is that Rogers has some value as a player but his insistence that he won't play in Chicago lessens the Fire's bargaining power a bit. It would certainly make sense to ask for the world in exchange but the reality of the importance of what Rogers is about to do will probably outweigh the needs of Chicago in this instance. If the league steps in to "facilitate" a deal some may feel that the Fire will get the short end of the stick.
On February 4 I wrote this regarding the Fire's acquisition of Rogers:
"The best move here may be to trade Rogers' rights within MLS in exchange for a forward or allocation money which would allow room for another scorer."
Take the allocation and draft picks and call it a day but ask for Magee. An unhappy Rogers wouldn't make much of an impact on the field for the Fire but his impact in Los Angeles would be bigger than just soccer or this trade.