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Robbie Rogers debuts for LA Galaxy, becomes first openly gay male in U.S. professional team sports

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Normally one team scoring four times before halftime kills a game’s drama. On Sunday, it didn’t matter.

It’s not that we didn’t care about the result. We did, a little. But when the LA Galaxy went into half time up 4-0, Seattle’s disastrous half allowed us to focus on the bigger picture.

It was only a matter of time until Robbie Rogers came on.

The former Columbus Crew winger was officially signed by Los Angeles on Saturday. When his International Transfer Certificate arrived on Sunday, we knew what would happen. With a national television audience set to tune in, Rogers would surely see time.

Sean Franklin’s opener followed by Robbie Keane’s first half hat trick left eyeing the clock. Would he come on at half-time, with the game well decided? Maybe as the first sub? Perhaps there was a specific minute Bruce Arena had in mind? Or maybe it wouldn’t happen at all.

In the 77th minute, with LA’s second sub, it finally came. To the applause of Home Depot Center’s 24,811 in attendance, Rogers became Major League Soccer’s first openly gay player. He’s also the first homosexual male to take part in U.S. professional team sport.

(MORE: The dramatically short arc of the Robbie Rogers story)

In terms of impact on the result, his time on the field was meaningless. The game was decided, and with the other 21 players undoubtedly aware of the occasion, the game faded into insignificance.

But in terms of the larger impact, Rogers’ time on the field couldn’t have been more meaningful. His appearance not only broke through barrier, blowing up one of sports’ former taboos, it did so with the full support of the over 24,000 in Carson as well as hundreds of thousands tuning in from home.

On an individual level, this was a landmark night of Rogers. But collectively, it was a great night for Major League Soccer, the larger gay community, and as more leagues embrace players like Rogers, the greater American sports landscape.

Here’s Rogers’ moment:

Report: Frank Lampard signs one-year extension at Chelsea

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According to reports out of England, Chelsea midfielder Frank Lampard, who had been touted as a potential Designated Player signing by the LA Galaxy, will sign a one-year extension that will prolong his tenure at Stamford Bridge. The 34-year-old England international, who adorned the Blues’ armband as his side took the field in Amsterdam today for the Europa League final, recently became the club’s all-time leading scorer, a stature he’ll now carry into a 13th season at the club.

As much as this will be perceived as a blow to the Galaxy, it was the most-logical outcome for a player who has scored 17 goals in 48 all-competition appearances this season. Chelsea, who apparently wanted to firm-up their managerial picture before committing to the icon, were not going to be his only option. If he wanted to stay in England, there was always the likelihood Lampard would find another top team, with fits and Manchester City and (especially) United always making sense.

Ultimately, the most likely scenario played out. Lampard, giving his team little reason to move on, will stay in West London. His wages will be reduced, as will his playing time, but those never appeared to be major obstacles. As his role in the team has changed, Lampard seems to have become accustomed to his new place at Stamford Bridge. He’s doesn’t have a marquee role or the wages that come with it. He knows his best days are behind him.

That status lent many to believe he was on his way to Major League Soccer, but there perhaps should have been a bit more circumspection, even if some stars were beginning to line up. LA may have wanted Lampard, and the Chelsea star may have considered it a possibility, but he always had options. If the door was open at Old Trafford, he wasn’t going to LA. If Eastlands had a place for him, the Galaxy would have to wait. And if Chelsea changed course, Lampard was staying home. A number of things would have had to fall into place before Lampard landed at Home Depot Center. Not surprisingly, it looks like it hasn’t worked out.

That doesn’t mean it won’t happen in the future. The reason this new deal was possible is because Lampard is still capable of contributing at the highest level. When that fades, he’ll be able to come and contribute in MLS, just as Robbie Keane has been a star after his EPL options faded.

It may not happen soon, but Lampard could still end up in MLS. Next year, however, he’ll be in West London.

Landon Donovan goal, assist lead LA Galaxy past Sporting KC

2012 MLS Cup - Houston Dynamo v Los Angeles Galaxy
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When Sporting Kansas City came out with their typical intensity, viewers were in for an early show at Home Depot Center, last year’s first place finishers in the East intent on going toe-to-toe with MLS’s two-time defending champions. But with Sporting making no changes from the team that played in New Jersey mid-week, you also knew they were likely to get caught. Eventually they’d slow down. Eventually they’d fade. Eventually their quick turnaround would catch up with them.

And two times on Saturday, it did. In the first half, Los Angeles’s league-best counterattack was on display while halting Sporting’s scoreless streak at 546 minutes, Marcelo Sarvas easily tapping in a Landon Donovan pass sent across the six. In the second half, another counter doubled LA’s lead, with Donovan recording his first goal of the year to give the Galaxy their 2-0 win.

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The final score could have been much worse. As Donovan noted post-match, the Galaxy’s early execution in the final third was lacking, players like Jack McBean one touch away from ending Kansas City’s streak much earlier. By match’s end, the Galaxy were countering at will, with one standout chance ending when Robbie Keane embarrassingly dribbled into Jimmy Nielsen, killing a one-on-one.

Although Kansas City entered the much-hyped showdown unbeaten in five, the game only highlighted the gap between the Galaxy, who again looked like the best team in the league, and Sporting, a team that’s failed to meet expectations in recent postseasons. In a game billed as a battle of powers, Kansas City were decidedly the less powerful, their early energy fading proving ultimately ineffectual.

Kansas City finished the match with only two shots on goal. According to ESPN stats guru Pete Carr, they were held to a season-low three completed crosses. In the first half, they only had three touches in the Galaxy penalty area (LA had 17). The match’s was more lopsided than its final score.

Fatigue was certainly a factor, the Galaxy on full rest while Kansas City was playing their second match in four days, but it’s not too naïve to note teams have to face a number of challenges on their way to championships. Sometimes they’re injured. Sometimes they’re fatigued. Other times it’s bad luck. Often the ability to overcome a particular hurdle is less important than the willingness to transcend any hurdle. Kansas City has yet to get to that point.

Having won two straight titles, LA’s clearly there, though on a night when Landon Donovan notched a goal and an assist, it’s worth nothing what obstacles they’ve already overcome this season. They were famously without their captain throughout the preseason, and they’ve also elected to keep their third designated player spot open until the summer, declining to immediately replace David Beckham. These aren’t the same, enormous challenges they faced last year after a slow start highlighted the absence of Omar Gonzalez, but most teams in the league would be seriously derailed after a shakeup within their top talent (look at Seattle).

After Saturday’s win, LA has 11 points in six games, good for second in the West. They also have a productive Donovan, something that wasn’t necessarily the case during his season’s first appearances. Playing in midfield while Keane and McBean started up top, Donovan was the key to LA’s decisive counterattacking, both springing the team out of their end as well as making long runs to join the attacks. Although he confessed post-match that he was tired while running onto his goal, Donovan looks to have shaken off the rust.

It was all part of one of the most convincing team performances of the season, one that should give pundits pause before filling out their weekly rankings of power. Dallas has the league’s best record, and teams like Houston and Sporting have more points, but is there really any doubt which team is Major League Soccer’s best? After Saturday, there shouldn’t be.

LA Galaxy join Real Madrid, Juventus, Inter Milan in this summer’s Champions Cup

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The LA Galaxy will be one of the team’s that will take part in this summer’s Guinness Champions Cup – a super tournament of eight teams that plans to take summer tours of the U.S. to a new level. Instead of the typical, isolated friendlies Europe’s giants usually hold during summer tours of the States, the Champions Cup will feature a week of action before narrow down to semis and finals, eventually crowning a winner of one of the more supercharged exhibitions imaginable.

Real Madrid, Inter Milan, and Juventus are also among the four teams initially announced, and while it remains to be seen how seriously teams in preseason mode can take this competition, the Galaxy are sure to be have their hands full in what promises to be a stellar field.

LA Galaxy president Chris Klein:

“It is an honor for the Galaxy to be able to represent Major League Soccer against some of the world’s top clubs in the inaugural Guinness International Champions Cup … Our fans are accustomed to seeing their team take on the world’s elite club teams in summer friendlies and we are excited to be able to continue that tradition here in the Southern California as well as in other cities throughout the United States.”

The final four entrants will be announced on May 7.  From the LA Galaxy’s news release, here are the tournament details:

The tournament will open in Europe on July 27 in a city to be determined and be contested over seven days at six marquee venues across the United States, with semifinals in Los Angeles and New York on August 3-4.  In addition to Los Angeles and New York, games will also be played in Phoenix, San Francisco and Indianapolis before the tournament culminates at Sun Life Stadium in Miami on August 6-7.

Major League Soccer clubs haven’t had the best of times against European opposition, even in friendlies. Last August, Real Madrid embarrassed the MLS champs at Home Depot Center, cruising to a 5-1 win while still early in their preseason.

As far as how this will interfere with LA’s Major League Soccer season, the schedule makers must have had a heads up. The Galaxy aren’t scheduled for any league games from July 27 to August 11.

 

Stars, future stars shine in Galaxy win over Herediano

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For the first time in CONCACAF Champions League history, there are two Major League Soccer teams in the tournament’s semifinals, with the LA Galaxy joining the Seattle Sounders in the final four after Wednesday night’s 4-1 win over Herediano. But even though the defending MLS champions were expected to move past their Costa Rican counterparts, don’t overlook the danger posed by tonight’s second leg in Carson.

After last week’s 0-0 in Heredia, Bruce Arena’s team couldn’t afford to give up the first goal at home. Should that happen, the Costa Ricans would not only have the lead and the valuable away goals tiebreaker, but they’d be in position to start bunkering almost immediately.

While you can argue LA — the experienced, superior side — was unlikely to let that happen, you could have said the same thing before the play-in round of last season’s playoffs. When Vancouver snatched the first goal last November at Home Depot Center, things got nervy.

(MORE: Harsh realities hit Houston in Torreon)

Tonight there was no such drama thanks to LA’s ever-enviable combination of experienced stars and emerging talents.

It was one of the veterans that opened the scoring early in the first half. Off a corner kick from Juninho, Omar Gonzalez headed home LA’s first, the Galaxy defender putting his team up one in the 18th minute.

But the danger wasn’t over. Up 1-0 at intermission, LA sat through halftime knowing one Herediano goal could put them out of the competition.

In the 69th minute, Jose Villarreal alleviated all worries. The 19-year-old attacker, who was so impressive at the recent CONCACAF U-20 Championships, put in a curler from long-range that beat Daniel Cambronero. LA was up 2-0.

Robbie Keane added a third 14 minutes later, and after Elías Aguilar pulled Herediano back within two in the 85th minute, 18-year-old Jack McBean restored LA’s three-goal margin.

For a team know for their high-priced, superstar talent, the contrast between Wednesday’s goal scorers was striking. On one hand you had Gonzalez and Keane, arguably the best players at their positions in Major League Soccer. One is coming off an MLS Cup Most Valuable Player award. The other has 126 career English Premier League goals.

On the other hand, you have Villarreal and McBean, two players who are a combined 37 years old. Together, they have two Major League Soccer goals, the same number they scored in the last 24 minutes of tonight’s match. And together, they are one of the best prospect tandems in the league.

For LA’s rivals, the onslaught provided a glimpse of a worrisome future, especially considering the Galaxy also count 21-year-old Gyasi Zardes among its young talents. Then there’s this little detail: LA still have that one Designated Player spot open.

If anybody retained hope the waning Beckham-Donovan-Keane era would end LA’s dominance, Wednesday may have provided a wake up call. If they can keep their youngsters in Los Angeles, the Galaxy will reload, not rebuild.