JOHN RIORDAN: The future’s bright for the two Robbies

I guess part of me was just afraid.

I understand that historically this is a big thing. But for me, it’s just another soccer game.

Did you ever think Robbie Keane would smooth a path for civil rights? As he has occasionally preferred to do when he’s had nothing of note to say in real life, he let his boots do the talking this past weekend, complying with the wishes of his new LA Galaxy team-mate Robbie Rogers and scoring a first ever hat-trick for the club he joined almost two years ago.

Keane may have given Giovanni Trapattoni something to mull over as his 33rd birthday approaches but making Rogers’ debut stress-free seemed like a more pressing concern.

Before the veteran centre forward flew to London for tonight’s friendly in Wembley, he cut loose in a performance on Sunday night that not only consigned to history the remnants of a minor squabble between club and country, it also helped Rogers make a historic debut in as relaxed a manner as possible.

You’ll probably know that the Californian midfielder, who turned 26 a couple of weeks ago not long after rowing back on his plans to retire from football, had announced publicly that he was gay in mid-February.

His relatively brief appearance off the bench against Seattle on Sunday was a big story on this side of the Atlantic and it took a little of the limelight away from another high-profile gay athlete, Jason Collins, the NBA free agent who has yet to confirm where his future lies in the game after his own high-profile emergence from the shadows in April.

But Collins won’t mind the focus shifting from him to the newest Galaxy signing who will now share this important burden. Rogers had expressed the hope that his much heralded debut for the LA Galaxy would arrive after his team was already 4-0 up.

“I was really nervous,” he acknowledged to the media afterwards adding that a phone call to his sister helped calm things a little.

“I just needed to hear someone’s voice. We were talking about my dog. Just to kind of get my mind off things.

“I guess part of me was just afraid. I understand that historically this is a big thing. But for me, it’s just another soccer game.

“So I was kind of battling with both of those things. Ok, this is a soccer game. I’ve done this a million times. But then obviously I know, I’m not naïve, I know people are watching.”

And wouldn’t you know it, his scoreline wish was granted before he was introduced to the fray thanks to efforts of his Irish team-mate.

“He got a great reception from the fans,” said Keane.

“I’m sure he’s delighted to get that off his back and now maybe, after this press conference, he can concentrate on just being totally part of the team and being a Galaxy player and none of this nonsense that comes along with it.”

This happy story arrived after Galaxy boss Bruce Arena also stood up for what was fair and right by doing something most football managers would shudder at.

Keane, it has been speculated, had a strong word with his club after it initially appeared that he wouldn’t be set free to take on England for the first and probably only time in his international career.

Arena took his player’s side, wondering why US Soccer could compel him to release American internationals ahead of time while everyone else was told to stay put.

“In all fairness, it’s the right thing to do,” he said with the sort of reasoning foreign to so many in his trade.

“In reality, no player should be released: US players or other internationals. We should adhere to Fifa rules... The league mandated that we release the players. If our US internationals are going for friendlies then others should. We’re on the same team here and it is not one rule for one and one for another.”

I’m not sure what impact Keane will have tonight and in the games that follow, culminating in June 11’s unknown quantity at Yankee Stadium — a hat-trick against Seattle is sadly not the most accurate guide to his form.

But at least he’s bringing a measure of contentment with him as the sun begins to set on his international career.

They’re enjoying his company in Southern California more than ever.

It was never a bad decision for him to move there but it was always for personal gain, making it inevitable that the FAI would one day enjoy an awkward run-in with his employers.

That’s all in the past. In spite of everything, the future is bright for the two Robbies.

* Contact: johnwriordan@gmail.com

Twitter: @JohnWRiordan


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