Invited guests come and go in MLS camps as the season progresses. Few of them possess the cachet of the former U.S. international winger.Robbie Rogers, 25, returned to the training field on Tuesday with the LA Galaxy. His presence attracted plenty of attention – after all, he retired from soccer in February after disclosing his homosexuality – and raised questions about whether he planned to make a more permanent return to the MLS scene at some point in the near future.
If Rogers decides he wants to play again in MLS, then he will find a place in the league. His established ability at this level warrants a spot in any squad. It is not a move without complications, though. Like any other player, the former Leeds United winger will find himself governed by the peculiar strictures governing the distribution of potential signings.
Rogers is currently a free agent, but he remains tied to one particular MLS team. Columbus retained his rights when he departed for the Championship on a free transfer last year because the club “made attempts to re-sign him,” pursuant to MLS regulations. Those transferable rights ended up in Chicago as part of the Dilly Duka/Dominic Oduro swap in February.
In order for Rogers to re-enter MLS, he would have to agree to contractual terms with the league first. Once the pact is finalized, he would land with Chicago because the Fire hold his rights. And then the fun starts.
Chicago – at least in theory – would have the latitude to keep Rogers and wave away any potential interest from potential suitors. Fire coach Frank Klopas accomplished two things by reiterating his desire to acquire Rogers on Tuesday: he offered Rogers an opportunity to play with his team if he so chose and he protected his theoretical leverage for any future trade offers.
The problem with that leverage in this instance: it doesn't favor Klopas and the Fire as it might under different circumstances. Rogers holds most of the cards here. His unique situation – including his off-the-field notoriety, his status as a retired player and the undeniable and the unseemly public relations fallout incurred if his high-profile return to the field is sidetracked by arcane procedures and obstinate executives – strengthens his hand considerably.
If Rogers tells the league he does not want to play in Chicago, then the league – as it would for any potential asset – would attempt to facilitate a trade to send him to a team of his choice. MLS holds a vested interest in signing Rogers for a variety of reasons. It won't allow some form of brinksmanship or a desire to extract a bit more allocation money to keep him away from the field. His value to the league exceeds the importance of the Fire's claim on his services. Therefore, the Fire will eventually have to accept or assent to a deal at something less than market value at the league's behest if Rogers wants to play elsewhere.
The revised approach to player distribution means other interested parties can attempt to entice Rogers to force a move to their club. Los Angeles makes a lot of sense with Rogers' local roots and Bruce Arena's established track record of finding a way to squeeze talented players into his squad. Seattle represents another option after Rogers' former coach in Columbus, Sigi Schmid, expressed interest in his services. Other teams could certainly hop into the mix if the salary budget number works and Rogers wants to pursue alternatives.
In the end, this entire process falls within Rogers' control. He chose to train with the Galaxy after Arena invited him to do so. He can decide to end his retirement and sign with the league. He can determine where he wants to play if he wants to return to the field. As the past couple of days (and months) have shown, he possesses a multitude of options within MLS if he chooses to pursue them. Now it is just a matter of whether he wants to follow one of those paths or select a different one altogether.