Robbie Rogers: Getting a Deal Done
Will he or won’t he? OTF Editor Scott Fenwick discusses what the future may hold in the ongoing Robbie Rogers saga…
Chicago Fire is making a big push to sign Robbie Rogers.
Club executives will meet with Rogers and his agent this week in Los Angeles to talk about his future and try to convince him to sign with the Fire. Odds are though, Rogers will make his case for wanting to stay in Los Angeles. He’ll be a tough nut to crack.
Given the circumstances, Rogers shouldn’t be faulted for wanting to be in LA. He’s a California guy and his family and close friends are there. After coming out, it’s reasonable to believe Rogers would feel safer at home among his loved ones. They’d offer him irreplaceable personal attention and support during his brave attempt to return to the pitch as soccer’s first openly gay professional.
Despite long odds, Chicago is working all available angles to bring Rogers into its fold. Rogers’s good friend, U.S. Men’s National Team and Anderlecht man Sacha Kljestan, may be able to aid the Fire’s effort to sign Rogers. Frank Klopas has a close relationship with Kljestan and his family and Sasha has agreed to put in the good word for Frank and the organization.
Despite his declaration that he doesn’t want to play in Chicago, Rogers also said he’s “not closing the doors or saying no to anyone else [read: aside from the Galaxy] that [he's] talked to.” Certainly, with the way things look at the moment, it’s unlikely Robbie Rogers will don Fire red. That said, Rogers hinted a window of opportunity still exists.
If the Fire puts its best foot forward and is still unable to convince Rogers to sign, its front office must be careful and shrewd during negotiations to deal his MLS rights. LA is not the only team interested in Rogers, and it appears Seattle’s in the market too. As Rogers’s return to professional soccer becomes more likely, other suitors may appear. Certainly, interest from other clubs helps Chicago’s leverage and perhaps makes a multilateral deal all the more possible.
If Chicago does wind up looking to trade Rogers’s rights bilaterally, it would be smart to use the 2008 Brian McBride deal as precedent at the bargaining table. That would involve asking for a starting player, a prospect or a first-round draft pick, and allocation cash.
McBride was at the tail end of his career when he returned to MLS from the Premier League’s Fulham. Rogers, however, has quite a few productive years ahead of him. Granted, Rogers is no McBride, but he’s got other intangibles that are valuable in the short-run. After all, we’re on the verge of a postmodern Jackie Robinson moment here, and the club that gets Rogers will come out of this saga smelling like roses.
Interestingly, it’s still unclear whether the Galaxy’s initial dealings with Rogers and his agent were above-board. If they weren’t, the Fire would have the right to file a tampering grievance with the league. That said, such a move might be perceived negatively, so Chicago must have a contingency plan in place if they feel compelled to involve the league.
If a grievance delays Rogers’s return to soccer, the PR game might not favor Chicago. The Fire certainly wouldn’t want to be regarded as the team that prevented the heroic Rogers from returning to the pitch. On the other hand, the rules are the rules, and precedent shows that when players return to MLS from abroad, teams follow protocol with respect to the right of first refusal rule.
So far, all evidence points to the fact that Chicago has not only followed the rules, but has also shown a great deal of respect to Rogers as he figures things out. As much as he doesn’t like the way MLS operates, Robbie Rogers and his agent must reciprocate and play by the rules too.
If negotiations reach an impasse, and it’s found that LA did indeed tamper, those who understand and respect the rules will realize that the Fire acted professionally and properly. If such a scenario plays out, it will be imperative for Chicago to convince folks that they’ve been hard done by LA Galaxy, that America’s “super club,” not the Fire, has perhaps spoiled MLS’s opportunity to be the global pioneer of tolerance in soccer.
If the above scenario develops, and the league steps in to mediate and facilitate a productive dialogue, precedent should favor Chicago. The type of compensation teams have given up in the past for a player of stature who decided he wanted to dictate where he’d go has been substantial – especially when the team that holds the player’s rights wants him. Case in point is the McBride deal, where the Fire sent a young, 23-year-old starting forward (Chad Barrett), a first-round pick, and a significant amount of allocation money to Toronto FC for McBride’s MLS rights.
LA Galaxy may try its best to argue that Rogers is rusty, injury-prone, and unfit. But the reality is that Robbie Rogers is a 25-year-old player who won a championship with Columbus when he was arguably their second-best offensive player a few years back. He’s played for the U.S. Men’s National Team and could find himself back in the international fold if he winds up playing to his potential in MLS.
If it’s unable to convince the young man that the Windy City would be his best choice, Chicago Fire should look to get real, tangible compensation for Robbie Rogers’s MLS rights. After all, he’s a player Fire Nation would love to have. And if we can’t have him, we deserve to be compensated justly.
This from Rogers on Tuesday night: