By Simon Evans
MIAMI (Reuters) - United States international Robbie Rogers has come out as gay and says he is stepping away from soccer.
The 25-year-old, who recently played in England for Leeds United and Stevenage and has 18 caps for the U.S. team, wrote on his website - under the title "The Next Chapter" - that he had been afraid to raise the issue.
There are no openly gay players playing in Major League Soccer or in the English professional leagues.
"Secrets can cause so much internal damage. People love to preach about honesty, how honesty is so plain and simple. Try explaining to your loved ones after 25 years you are gay," he wrote on Friday.
"For the past 25 years I have been afraid, afraid to show whom I really was because of fear. Fear that judgment and rejection would hold me back from my dreams and aspirations. Fear that my loved ones would be farthest from me if they knew my secret. Fear that my secret would get in the way of my dreams.
"Dreams of going to a World Cup, dreams of the Olympics, dreams of making my family proud. What would life be without these dreams? Could I live a life without them?"
Rogers made his name in MLS with Columbus Crew and was part of the U.S. team at the Beijing Olympics and narrowly missed out on a place in the U.S. World Cup squad in 2010.
The winger most recently played for the United States in 2011 but struggled following a move to English second tier club Leeds in January 2012, being loaned out to third tier Stevenage before being released by Leeds last month.
"I will never forget the friends I have made along the way and the friends that supported me once they knew my secret," he said.
"Now is my time to step away. It's time to discover myself away from football."
Many expected Rogers to return to Major League Soccer where his rights had been acquired by the Chicago Fire, although he had expressed unhappiness at the contractual situation in the North American league.
The Californian is residing in London where he has been undertaking an internship with the magazine Men's Health.
Rogers' statement was met with warm messages of solidarity from several leading U.S. soccer players on social media.
"100 percent love and support for one of my best friends Robbie Rogers. You will be missed on the pitch. Amazing talent, amazing person," said midfielder Sacha Kljestan, a U.S. team mate who plays in Belgium with Anderlecht.
Sports people who come out as gay are rare.
England's Professional Footballers' Association chief executive Gordon Taylor told Britain's Sky Sports News that soccer would only start to win the battle against prejudice if gay players "ideally come out during their career even if it's towards the end of their career".
Former U.S. national team goalkeeper Kasey Keller, who also played in English club football, said he hoped to see Rogers back in the game.
"The bravery of Robbie Rogers is commendable, I hope he realizes that he doesn't need to retire. He will be more supported than he knows," Keller wrote on Twitter.
(Reporting By Simon Evans, editing by Mark Meadows)