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Originally published July 12, 2012 at 9:09 PM | Page modified July 13, 2012 at 12:07 PM

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Levesque leaving soccer field and focusing on a greater one

Roger Levesque is leaving the Seattle Sounders. The 31-year-old forward will play his last game in Wednesday's friendly with Chelsea.

Seattle Times staff columnist

Sunday

Sounders FC @ NY Red Bulls

1 p.m., ESPN

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Roger Levesque is leaving the Seattle Sounders. The 31-year-old forward will play his last game in Wednesday's friendly with Chelsea.

He is quitting soccer to pursue his master's degree in business at the University of Washington. He said he eventually wants to find a job in the nonprofit world.

That sounds about right for him. Levesque's career never has been about making money. It has been more important for him to make people's lives better, doing his small part to improve the world and paying it forward.

"I'm going to miss the guys, that camaraderie you can't get anywhere else," Levesque said at lunch earlier this week in Queen Anne. "But I feel like I'm leaving on a positive note. There's no doubt in my mind this team is going to sort things out and continue in the right direction."

What's not to like about Roger Levesque? He's the guy to whom people gravitate at parties. He's the good listener, the good audience. He's the person who makes you feel as if your story, or your job, is as interesting as his, even when it isn't. He's the one who makes sure everyone else is having a good time.

Levesque is a soccer player, which, almost by definition, means he knows how to have fun. He's the player who practiced falling backward off his couch before showing off the goal-scoring celebration he named "The Scuba Dive" following his second goal of the match last season against the New York Red Bulls. It became a "SportsCenter" Top 10 highlight.

He arrived in Seattle in 2003 on loan to the then-minor league Sounders from the MLS San Jose Earthquakes, figured he'd be here for the rest of that season, then stayed for the rest of his career.

"Coming out of Stanford, I thought maybe I'd play a couple of years, just sort of see how it goes," Levesque said. "Now here I am, 11 years later. I never thought I'd end up in Seattle, but Brian Schmetzer (Sounders FC's assistant coach and Levesque's former head coach with the USL Sounders) comes to mind when I think about how I ended up here.

"I was coming off ACL surgery in 2003 in San Jose and Brian called and said, 'Hey, you want to come up here and play some games?' He was a big reason why I came up here initially and a big reason why I kept coming back."

Like the very good Sonics teams of the 1970s and 1990s, teams where the fans felt a real connection to the players, many of the original MLS Sounders have had that same effect on Seattle.

They've made themselves available in the community. They've been approachable in public. Many of them have become part of us. And Levesque has been one of their leaders.

He survived an arduous tryout camp to make the first-year MLS Sounders in 2009 and scored the game-winning goal in the first U.S. Open Cup win at D.C. United.

He scored another game-winner against D.C. United and had those two memorable goals against the Red Bulls. He has been a spark off coach Sigi Schmid's bench, changing the momentum of games with his unbreakable motor. And when Schmid asked him to play right back in a reserve game last season, he did it willingly.

But Levesque also has been a guy who seemingly always has been available when he's needed at Seattle Children's hospital or Special Olympics or America Scores.

My favorite on-field Levesque moment came in a 2009 Open Cup match in Portland against the Timbers. Levesque scored 48 seconds into the match, then stood like a fir tree as teammate Nate Jaqua chopped him down.

But my real favorite moment was at a bookstore in downtown Seattle on a Sunday in early April. Levesque had just finished playing in a scrimmage against Gonzaga.

He rushed through traffic and about an hour after that game he was reading Shel Silverstein poems to fourth-graders. I guarantee he had as much fun as the kids.

"I think initially it was the Sounders' organization putting the players into positions where they could be out in the community that got us out there," Levesque said. "You know, to market the team and to give back to the fans who were supporting the team.

"But then a lot of the guys also realized that there was a great opportunity to have an even greater impact in the community. With the visibility you have being with the Sounders, you realize you can really have an impact. When you're put in those positions, something clicks that says, 'Hey, I can do a lot of good here.' "

Levesque's soccer career will end next week. His doing-good-for-Seattle career, however, will continue for the rest of his life. He's staying in town, and that's the good news inside the bad news of his retirement.

Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or skelley@seattletimes.com

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