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May 5, 2013

Robbie Rogers shooting to return in '13

Former U.S. national team winger Robbie Rogers, who stepped away from the sport in February after announcing he is gay, said Sunday that "there's a really good chance" he'll play in Major League Soccer this season.

Speaking to "Soccer Today" on ESPN Radio in Dallas (103.3 FM), Rogers said that he's been encouraged by both the state of his game and the welcome he's received from Los Angeles Galaxy players after joining the team in training this week.

"To be honest, I had no plans of going back to football at all and definitely not this soon," Rogers told the station. "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 [made him say], 'Oh my gosh, I miss this stuff.'

"I just need a bit more time to evaluate and to see how things play out, but I've really enjoyed myself [in Galaxy training]. 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."

The video clips, Rogers said, "ignited a little fire in me" that sparked his desire to make a comeback. News of Rogers' return to the pitch this week coincided with 12-year NBA veteran Jason Collins' decision to come out in a Sports Illustrated essay, making Collins the first openly gay active player in any of the four major North American team sports.

Rogers, 25, left Leeds United by mutual consent in January after spending more than a year in England. He suffered a concussion in his Leeds debut in February 2012 and was plagued by various injuries throughout his stay at Elland Road and also during a loan spell earlier this season at Stevenage Borough in League One.

After saying in a February letter titled "The Next Chapter" published on his personal web site that "it's time to discover myself away from football," Rogers told "Soccer Today" that he and Galaxy coach Bruce Arena have been discussing a return to Galaxy training sessions as a special guest for the past few weeks. Rogers also trained with the Galaxy before reporting to Leeds for the 2012-13 season.

His MLS rights are held by the Chicago Fire after they acquired them in a Feb. 4 trade with the Columbus Crew, who won the MLS Cup in 2008 with Rogers' help. But Rogers said Sunday that he's determined to play close to home if he decides to resume his career.

"I don't want to go to Chicago," Rogers said. "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."

Galaxy star Landon Donovan is among those pushing for his team to try to secure Rogers' rights from the Fire, telling MLSSoccer.com this week: "It was fun to play with him. He's been out awhile, so it's going to take him awhile to get back into it, and he would admit that. But hopefully does well. My personal hope is that we that we'll sign him and that they can find out a way to work a trade with Chicago."

Said Rogers: "All I can say is [that] it's been normal. It's been fun to be out there. I don't know what's going to happen with me returning to the MLS. All I know is I'm really enjoying myself right now."

Asked about walking back into a team's locker room for the first time since his February announcement, even though he's not an official member of the Galaxy, Rogers said: "I was a bit scared at first, to be honest. You feel a bit like an outcast, of course. But it was the same as last summer when I went there. All the guys were very welcoming and cool and just treated me like anybody else, so I don't know what I was so worried about. It's been, like I said, it's just been normal. It's been really nice."

As for his game, Rogers said: "I'm doing a lot better than I thought I would. Maybe it's that I just feel like myself. I don't know what it is. I'm not that out of shape, and I think the Galaxy is a bit surprised because I haven't trained ... I've been running and lifting but I haven't touched a football for three and a half, four months. So I've been a lot better than I thought I would be."

The Fire have formally granted Rogers permission to train with the Galaxy but have indicated that they hope to keep the former U.S. international, who has been capped 18 times and scored against Mexico in 2012 in Jurgen Klinsmann's first match in charge of the U.S. national team.

"We continue to be in touch with [Rogers]," Fire executive Javier Leon told the Chicago Tribune this week. "Robbie is not ready to make a final commitment to return to competitive soccer. ... [But] we would like to have him play for us."

Rogers spoke to Collins this week after the NBA player's announcement and thanked Collins for saying Rogers had "blazed a trail" with his own declaration two months earlier.

"To be honest, it's not a contest, and when I heard people [in soccer] kind of complain about, 'Robbie came out earlier' … I kind of just laugh at those people," Rogers said. "What are you worried about?

"The point of all this is, we need to get over, I guess, how homophobic a lot of sports are and the sports culture. And I think things are really changing. It's great that Jason did what he did and hopefully more athletes will follow, but when people were saying Jason Collins was the first [active] athlete to come out, I didn't really care. I'm just happy for him -- even though I don't know him that well -- and I'm happy that our society gave him such a positive response, because I think that's more important."

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