Robbie Rogers is coming back to MLS, assuming he gets to play for his team of choice. The former United States international made that much clear during an interview with Soccer Today and then in a tweet:
No disrespect to the Fire or any1 in Chicago. I'm against playing there because I need to be near my fam at this time. Please respect that.— Robbie Rogers (@robbierogers) May 6, 2013
Rogers has also spoken glowingly of his training stint with the LA Galaxy, and it's clear he would prefer to go there. It makes sense that Rogers, who took a break from retiring after announcing he was gay, would want to return to the field close to friends and family. That team also just so happens to be the most glamorous organization in the league.
MLS is going to have to handle this situation with some care, but it would do well to address the problems inherent in the allocation system that is creating this entire mess.
If this were virtually any other soccer league in the world, there would be no controversy. Rogers, who's currently out of contract, would be free to sign with any team he wanted. But, as we all know, MLS is not like any other league in this regard.
MLS strictly controls player movement, to the extent that even after players leave their rights are often controlled. If a player leaves the league on a free transfer, his old team retains his rights, as long as they made some attempt to re-sign him. If a transfer fee is received, the player re-enters the league through a draft. In Rogers' case, the Columbus Crew attempted to re-sign him before he joined Leeds United on a free. Further complicating matters in this case were the Crew trading Rogers' rights to the Chicago Fire prior to the start of this season.
Coincidentally, about 10 days after complaining about that trade, Rogers came out and said he was stepping away from soccer.
Given that Rogers' only experience with the Fire was facing them as one of the Crew's biggest rivals, it's hardly surprisingly that he doesn't really want to play there. He's going to be facing some significant challenges as the first openly gay professional male athlete and he should have some say in where he plays.
But even if Rogers were just a normal player returning to MLS, it seems ridiculous that his rights can be traded without his consent. At the very least, MLS should stop allowing teams to trade players who aren't currently playing for the league. If that player decides to come back, only then should his rights be eligible for trade.
Such a rule would not address the concerns of players like Herculez Gomez -- whose rights are controlled by Sporting Kansas City for the same reasons that the Crew had Rogers' -- but as long as free agency doesn't exist within MLS, that's a very complicated issue. MLS isn't going to allow players de facto free agency by allowing them to essentially launder their rights by playing in another league.
What can be addressed, though, is what happens to American players whose rights aren't already controlled. I wrote about this issue last year and suggested Americans be treated as any other foreign-based player and making them subject to "Discovery Claims."
Admittedly, this is mostly dealing with the periphery issues surrounding Rogers' return and doesn't do anything to address the current reality.
Assuming Rogers is serious about only playing for the Galaxy -- or perhaps one or two other teams -- that puts the league in a tough position. Either they waste a wonderful chance to score some serious PR points by being the first league to have an openly gay player suiting up for actual games, or they risk the ire of fans all over the league by appearing to only bend the rules when it suits the Galaxy or the New York Red Bulls.
The best solution would involve the Galaxy simply agreeing to part with something resembling "fair market value." What's a 25-year-old, former United States international and MLS Best XI, who hasn't played significant minutes in more than a year worth? That's hard to say. But it's probably safe to say that once Rogers gets back into playing shape that he'd be good enough to be a starter for virtually every MLS squad.
Suffice it to say, the Galaxy aren't going to want to give up a player of equivalent value to get Rogers. That would probably mean parting with one of their many young attackers. I have a hard time seeing that happen, though. Slightly more realistically, the Galaxy might be willing to give up a Leonardo or a Tommy Meyer along with a draft pick or two. But the Galaxy might not even be willing to dip into their defensive depth like that.
A league-forced deal will probably result in the Fire getting nothing more than some draft picks and maybe some allocation money, which they could then use to get another player. It's hardly ideal and something I'm sure would raise a lot of eyebrows around the league.
But maybe Rogers is such a special case that a fanbase that is quick to latch onto any number of conspiracy theories is willing to overlook it. At this point, all we can do is hope.
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