Roger Levesque now Sounders FC's clutch closer
Former USL forward's winning goal against Kansas City shows he has found a role scoring late-game goals.
Seattle Times staff columnist
TUKWILA — Before Roger Levesque went into Saturday night's game in Kansas City, assistant coach Brian Schmetzer showed him the inviting hole in the eye of Kansas City's corner-kick defense.
Trailing 2-1, there was an opportunity for the Seattle Sounders FC forward to enter the game, fill that hole and convert one of Freddie Ljungberg's laser-guided corner kicks. A seductive spot in the Wizards' defense that was vulnerable.
Levesque was about to be given another opportunity to prove he belonged.
Since the post-practice moment last March, when coach Sigi Schmid matter of factly told him that technical director Chris Henderson would be bringing him a contract the next day, Levesque slowly has become a dangerous weapon in the Sounders' attack.
After a long training camp, not knowing from one day to the next if he was going to stick with the expansion Sounders, Levesque, who had been a goal scorer with the United Soccer League Sounders, made the team and made the jump to the MLS.
"It was an interesting time in training camp," Levesque said after Tuesday's practice. "There was a group of us here who had been in Seattle with the USL team who had no idea what our fate would be. We just woke up every morning, went to training and tried to prove that we were good enough to contribute to the team. There was a lot of uncertainty, but at the same time, I believed in myself."
Seven months later, Levesque has become the Sounders' closer. Saturday night, he came into another game, filled in the hole Schmetzer showed him and scored the tying goal in what became the Sounders' playoff-clinching 3-2 win over the Wizards.
This has become his role. Enter a game late, find an opportunity and convert. Ever Ready Roger.
He scored a big goal in the team's U.S. Open Cup win in Portland. And he scored the championship winner in the Cup final against D.C. United. His was the only goal in the recent 1-0 win at Columbus before his latest goal.
Levesque has gone from being a guy on the bubble in March to Sigi's good-luck charm in autumn.
"I think it took Roger a while to adjust to the pace of the game and the level of the game here," Schmid said. "I want him, at times, to become a lot more greedy. I didn't think he was greedy enough. But he started to play better and got opportunities and converted those opportunities, so that now he's scored some immense goals."
The MLS will grow on the backs of players like the 28-year-old Levesque, an American-born player who kept working, fought through injuries and grew with the game. He will be a role model for the game's next generation.
Levesque paid his dues with the USL Sounders, coming to the team on loan from the MLS's San Jose Earthquakes in 2003. He has played a long time for a little money.
"Being a professional now for seven years, I've learned to appreciate the fact that we get to come out here every day," said Levesque. "Brian [Schmetzer] always reminds us that it could be a lot worse. We could be digging ditches somewhere.
"We get to come out here, hang out with our buddies, play a little soccer, run around a little bit, get a lot of exercise. It's beautiful out here. I think I've gained that appreciation for all of this. That appreciation is what gets me through."
Levesque has become the Yang to Ljungberg's Yin. Ljungberg is the million-dollar European star signed with great fanfare. Levesque is the bargain-basement journeyman who signed silently just before the season began.
Together, they have become a lethal, late-game combination. Corner-kick comrades.
"He's an amazing guy. A professional. A good man," Ljungberg said. "The thing about Roger is, when you get on the pitch, you always know what you're going to get from him. You know how he moves. I can understand him quite well. He's playing very well. And for someone who's that humble and a nice guy, it's fun to see him have success."
With the playoffs a week away, Levesque has blossomed at the perfect time. He has become a force, lurking on the sideline, waiting for the game's final half-hour.
"He has always been a player who was on the cusp of can-he-make-it-in-MLS?" Schmid said. "But sometimes when you're looking at players to be the 16-17-18th player on your squad, you want guys you know are going to come in and work every day. And guys who basically are going to give their heart and soul to the club. I saw all that in Roger."
He saw a guy who knew how to score goals. Ever Ready Roger, always lurking in that dangerous last half-hour.
Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or firstname.lastname@example.org
About Steve Kelley
Steve Kelley covers all sports, putting his spin on matters involving both the home team and the nation.
email@example.com | 206-464-2176
UPDATE - 9:02 PM
Steve Kelley: What happened to the once-scary Huskies?