Roger Levesque finds himself in a familiar spot — clinging to the chance to play one more season in Major League Soccer.
Can he dodge the bullet one more time?
That is certainly one of the more intriguing narratives unfolding at the Sounders preseason camp in year three. Levesque, an eight-year veteran of the United Soccer League and the MLS (mostly with the Sounders), is blocking out any such thoughts that suggest a life without soccer, a life without the Sounders.
He’s keeping those moments of unvarnished reflection to himself. All energy is focused on making the team. The 29-year-old Stanford University economics major is cautiously hopeful he can do better than merely make the team. His mantra: Find a way to contribute however he can and in whatever position coach Sigi Schmid wants him to play.
He’s not ready to think about a career outside of soccer.
“I am trying to enjoy as much soccer as I can rather than worry about what’s next,” Levesque said, in an interview following day four of preseason training at Case Grande, in the Arizona desert. “My goal is to keep pushing, to keep trying to get into that 18, to get into that starting 11, pushing and doing whatever I can to make the team better, and hopefully win a championship.”
It is that kind of spirit, it is that kind of enthusiasm, it is that kind of flexibility and it is that kind of effort that has helped Levesque survive the roster cuts, and indeed, carve out a place for himself on a team that is raising its talent level every year. At the beginning of preseason, Schmid added to the pressure, telling the core group of veterans that this is the year they need to challenge for the MLS Cup — or else.
For Levesque, earning a relatively low salary and living in some uncertainty is normal. This is a guy who just loves to play soccer and pinches himself everyday for the opportunity. “I hope it works out this year,” he said. “Im a guy who loves to play where ever I end up on the field. Ill do whatever it takes to win. Thats one of the positive things I have to offer.”
So, it comes as no surprise that Levesque welcomed the opportunity to play right back in the full-field scrimmage Wednesday. He has been deployed as a forward and has slotted into the various midfield spots, though mostly on the outside. So, if playing right back is what the team needs, Levesque is happy to oblige.
“Today we actually threw Roger Levesque in at right back,” Schmid said. “We wanted to see how that would look. I know he is a pretty versatile player and hes played different places. It wasnt an easy 20 minutes since he got matched up with Steve Zakuani, but it was good because we learned a lot from seeing that.
Said Levesque: “Playing against Steve Zakuani is not exactly an easy transition. It was definitely a good learning experience.”
Levesque hopes to educate the coaches on the intangible values (economic speak) that he can bring to the market of the MLS. As commodity players in a league that places a high premium on gifted skills and super talent, Levesque, Zach Scott, Tyson Wahl and Taylor Graham need to convince the coaches they have niche skills that are valuable to the team.
In the end, the Sounders can only offer roster spots to 28 players. With nearly 40 invited to try out, Levesque knows his odds of remaining a Sounder are decreasing (the law of diminishing returns?). Schmid makes no bones about it. These veteran reserve players are probably competing for their lives with the talented group of rookies and trialists brought into camp.
But economic value in the MLS can work in mysterious ways. In Levesque’s case, a relatively low salary can elevate his value to the club.
“I think anybody who is more in a reserve role from last year and the new guys are all in the same boat. They are all competing for a spot,” Schmid said. “We have a unique situation in Seattle in that we have some experienced veteran players like Roger (Levesque) and Zach (Scott) and Taylor Graham, who have got some experience and have some knowledge and who dont necessarily break the salary cap bank.”
If ever the over-used phrase hard work pays off applied to anyone, then it fits one of the hardest working players in the MLS. Levesque is not the fastest, nor dazzles with sublime skill, and he rarely blows past defenders with a double scissor. But the student of economics is, well, economically efficient as well as flexible and agile. His history shows he has portable skills — a value employers seek.
During the Sounders expansion year, Levesque mostly came off the bench late in the game as a forward. He took 15 shots that year — and seven of those were on frame and four ended in the back of the net. Maybe he should pick stocks in the future? Last season, Levesque played outside midfield as cover as well as earned some starts as a forward, appearing in 27 matches. This year, he might be James Riley’s back up as a right defender.
He knows when to take his chances and capitalize on them. Rejected twice by the MLS San Jose Earthquakes, Levesque found a home with the USL-1 Sounders and thrived. He parlayed that momentum and work ethic into an improbable offer from the MLS Sounders just weeks before the beginning of their inaugural season.
Levesque remains one of the most popular Sounders precisely because of his work ethic, his big heart and his canny knack to defy the MLS odds. What does he really bring to the Sounders? It’s a mental edge.
“Its going out every day trying to get better,” he said. “Every day you need to compete and show up, you need to show you deserve to be there and want to be there. Thats how I approached last year, and thats what Im doing this year.”
Training Game Scheduled
Sounders have scheduled a preseason training game with Cascadia rivals Vancouver Whitecaps FC on Friday, February 4 at 3 p.m. PT at Grande Sports World. The training game is open to media and the public.