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American soccer nation demonstrates overwhelming, inspiring support for Robbie Rogers

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I am remarkably proud of our soccer nation today.

Going way back, I have always thought of soccer fans as a slightly more enlightened breed. Historically you cannot have worn the soccer label in this country without some ability to think for yourself; there was always a ninny out there telling you to get in line and support the “traditional” American sports.

Friday proved it, when a person previously reluctant to be the best version of himself brought out the very best side of the collective U.S. soccer supporter nation.

Robbie Rogers did something on Friday that took tremendous courage, coming out as a gay man. The American soccer supporters reacted with an overwhelming, inspiring show of support.

Men’s professional sports remain hard-wired into a certain machismo and some corresponding old ways of thinking when it comes to matters of women and sexuality. Individually, we may have become more enlightened and permissive as a society, but evolution within a group dynamic has been harder to come by.

Believe it: what Rogers did took vast stores of backbone.

Even at the highest levels, they did more than just let Rogers know what he did was OK; they acknowledged the breakthrough and the bravery:

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Rogers has appeared 18 times for the full national team. That’s exactly what helped make this so significant and newsworthy; Rogers was hardly some obscure figure in the game, once among the most promising young American talent. A 2008 Olympic team member, the speedy left winger quite nearly landed a World Cup roster spot back in 2010, just as he turned 23.

From the playing community, the outpouring was nothing short of inspirational, so much of it delivered publicly via Twitter, so many punctuated by a hashtag of earnest admiration and understanding: #respect

(MORE: Great insight into Rogers’ weighty decision)

And so many were more than just “We got your back.”  Longtime U.S. goalkeeper Kasey Keller, for instance, said what was on so many minds, something becoming more and more evident as the public support mounted. “The bravery of Robbie Rogers in commendable, I hope he realizes that he doesn’t need to retire. He will be more supported than he knows”

MLS players gathered in Arizona for a preseason tournament were scheduled for a round of video interviews, so they took the opportunity to support Rogers on camera.

The Seattle Sounders did a video of their own. That was capped with an MLS public service message where prominent players, including Landon Donovan and Dwayne De Rosario, advised that the league was a no-bullying, no-racism, no-sexism and no-homophobia zone. It also included a statement of support from Marc Burch, who was caught on camera last year in bigoted moment. (Burch subsequently and profusely apologized for his poor choice of words.)

Players from the league champion LA Galaxy voiced their support.

Like Burch, Galaxy midfielder Colin Clark had a particularly bad moment in 2012. He was suspended early last year for directing a homophobic slur toward a young ball boy (for which he went out of his way to humbly make amends). So Clark’s show of support particularly resonated.

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Meanwhile, the support from fans was similarly overwhelming – and overwhelmingly positive. Even Rogers was taken aback.

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Colleague Brian Straus from The Sporting News, also wrote of the stunning stream of  support. He eloquently nailed the U.S. soccer fan dynamic here that creates a more accepting collective.

Thanks to American soccer’s unique demographics, there likely is no sports league in this part of the world more prepared to accept an active gay player than MLS. Soccer remains somewhat counter culture in the U.S. and Canada. MLS fans often are young and urban. Many of the league’s players are well traveled or well educated. The “New America” that so many pundits discussed during last fall’s presidential election—diverse in some ways, cosmopolitan in others—is far more likely to embrace soccer than the old.

We all deserve to be the best that we can be. No one should be relegated to the outer markers, circling the airport, afraid to land at the fullest version of themselves.

American soccer at large took the opportunity to remind Rogers of that, and tell him that we’re all good here.

Napoli fans wear Koulibaly masks to support defender after racial abuse

NAPLES, ITALY - FEBRUARY 07:  Fans of Napoli  during the Serie A match between SSC Napoli and Carpi FC at Stadio San Paolo on February 7, 2016 in Naples, Italy.  (Photo by Maurizio Lagana/Getty Images)
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Napoli fans showed their support for Kalidou Koulibaly on Sunday after the Senegalese center-back was the subject of racial abuse in a match against Lazio last week.

[ MORE: La Liga & Serie A roundup ]

The Lazio match was temporarily stopped in the second half as Lazio supporters hurled racial insults at Koulibaly.

At Napoli’s match against Carpi on Sunday, fans wore Koulibaly masks and painted signs in his honor to show their support for the 24-year-old defender.

A statement from Napoli’s supporters’ group read: “Everyone in Naples is offended by what happened to our young star. Because of this, we want to show our full support to Koulibaly.”

[ VIDEO: Van Gaal rips journalist who questions his Manchester United future ]

Lazio was fined more than $50,000 and will be forced to close certain sections of their stadium for the next two league matches because of the incident.

Afobe says he scored 15 goals a game with Harry Kane at the Arsenal academy

during the Barclays Premier League match between Crystal Palace and A.F.C. Bournemouth at Selhurst Park on February 2, 2016 in London, England.
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Benik Afobe and Harry Kane are Premier League foes, but as kids, they were teammates.

Now Afobe is at Bournemouth and Kane at Tottenham, though both strikers played together with the Arsenal U-9 team as children.

[ RECAP: Bournemouth 0-2 Arsenal ]

While Kane left Arsenal at 10 and eventually settled at crosstown rivals Tottenham, Afobe stayed under contract with the club until 2015 despite never making an appearance for the Gunners.

Afobe went on six loan spells before moving to Wolverhampton last season, then joining Bournemouth in January.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

With three goals in his first five Premier League matches for the Cherries, Afobe is no stranger to scoring, as he said he would combine with Harry Kane for 15 goals a game back in the day.

I’ve got pictures of us from Arsenal.

He was so small at the time, a bit of a late developer, but he’s always loved scoring. The scores used to be 17-15 and stuff – we just knew we’d score in every game.

But it’s weird because he used to play in goal sometimes, and wasn’t bad actually. You wouldn’t think it – remember that goal he let in for Tottenham a couple of years ago (against Asteras Tripolis in the Europa League) when he had to play in goal.

I think Mauricio Pochettino and Spurs’ supporters are happy Harry Kane chose to play striker over goalkeeper…

[ MORE: Deficiencies visible on both sides as Chelsea draw Manchester United ]

Kane has proven that he is an elite goalscorer in the Premier League, and Afobe is off to a fine start himself. With both players just 22-years-old, we’ll likely be seeing many more goals to come from the duo.

Gary Neville under pressure as Valencia without a win in nine

EIBAR, SPAIN - DECEMBER 13:  Head coach Gary Neville of Valencia CF reacts during the La Liga match between SD Eibar and Valencia CF at Ipurua Municipal Stadium on December 13, 2015 in Eibar, Spain.  (Photo by Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images)
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Gary Neville was appointed manager at Valencia on December 2. He is still yet to win a La Liga match.

After falling 1-0 to Real Betis on Sunday, Neville is now winless in nine league matches at Valencia as pressure grows on the new boss.

[ MORE: La Liga & Serie A roundup ]

Some have called for Neville to step down from his position, as the club has fallen from 8th to 13th and now sit just four points clear of the drop.

However, the former Manchester United legend has said he has been judged too quickly and will work hard to turn things around.

I said before I came that I would be judged in five months. I have been judged in six weeks.

There’s no doubt that at times like this everyone needs to stay together.

Everyone suffers. It’s just not going for us at the moment. I continue to work, I continue to have belief.

Conversations with the owners are between me and the owners. We have to turn it round quickly, I understand that. It is hard to explain the defeat. It will turn.

Not only has Neville struggled in La Liga play, but he has also seen Valencia bounced from the Champions League and saw his side smashed 7-0 by Barcelona in the Copa del Rey semifinal.

[ MORE: Player ratings from Chelsea’s 1-1 draw with Manchester United ]

Valencia’s next league match is on Saturday against Espanyol, who sit three points below Valencia and haven’t won a match since December. If Neville fails to win again, there could be some real trouble at the Mestalla.

PSG down Marseille 2-1 for ninth-straight Le Classique win

HARRISON, NJ - JULY 21:  Zlatan Ibrahimovic #10 of Paris Saint-Germain is congratulated by teamamte Maxwell #17 after Ibrahimovic scored a goal in the second half against AFC Fiorentina during the International Champions Cup at Red Bull Arena on July 21, 2015 in Harrison, New Jersey.Paris Saint-Germain defeated ACF Fiorentina 4-2.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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France’s biggest rivalry has been quite one-sided, as Paris Saint-Germain defeated Marseille 2-1 on Sunday to take their ninth-straight Le Classique.

Marseille’s last win over PSG in Ligue 1 play was in November of 2011.

[ MORE: Juve win 14th straight ]

PSG got off to a dream start in Sunday’s Classique as Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored in the opening two minutes to give the Le Parisiens an early lead. It was Zlatan’s league-leading 21st goal of the season.

On loan from Newcastle, Remy Cabella equalized for Marseille in the 25th minute. Cabella scored on a brilliant individual effort, taking the ball from his own half on a solo run to the PSG box before firing a low shot into the bottom corner.

[ RELATED: Lewandowski’s agent confirms contract talks with Bayern Munich ]

However, PSG pushed on and claimed the win thanks to a 71st minute goal from Angel di Maria, who has been impressing in his first season in Paris. With eight goals and ten assists in Ligue 1 play, only Zlatan has been involved in more goals than di Maria.

Through 25 matches, PSG hold a ridiculous 24-point lead at the top of the Ligue 1 table.