What Ever Happened To ... Seattle Sounders original and fan favorite Roger Levesque

What Ever Happened To Roger Levesque

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USA Today Sports

MLSsoccer.com continues its look back at the stars, personalities and cult heroes who made Major League Soccer what it is today. Our fourth annual “What Ever Happened To..." series rolls on with Seattle Sounders MLS original and fan favorite Roger Levesque. (Check out more from the series here.)

Where He Was Then

Explaining Roger Levesque’s enduring place in Seattle Sounders lore is not quite as simple as looking at his career accomplishments.

Yes, there were some big goals, the most famous of which was probably his strike 48 seconds into a US Open Cup match against the Portland Timbers in 2009.

Yes, he had a way of creating memorable celebrations, whether it was the “tree chop” he executed after that goal against the Timbers or his “scuba dive” two years later in a nationally televised game against the New York Red Bulls that was honored as MLSsoccer.com's Celebration of the Year.

Roger Levesque stepped away from pro soccer in 2012 at age 31, with a hero's send-off in a July 2012 friendly vs. Chelsea. “The whole month before and month after was a complete whirlwind," he said shortly afterward. "I was just trying to do it the right way.”

(Courtesy of Seattle Sounders FC)

It’s also true that Levesque was once one of the Sounders’ top offensive threats dating back to their pre-MLS days, with 23 goals in 71 USL First Division games from 2003-05, and that he helped lead them to a pair of second-flight titles in 2005 and ’07.

But his relationship with Seattle fans runs a bit deeper than all of that. The Maine native really became an embodiment of his team’s connection to the community during a 10-year professional career that started with a loan from the San Jose Earthquakes and ended with a hero’s send-off in a friendly against Chelsea midway through the 2012 season.

Along the way, Levesque was a fixture in the community through volunteer work, coaching and even showing up to serve as a guest bartender on a few occasions at fundraisers. Perhaps more than any other player in the team’s 40-year history, Levesque exuded a “one of us” vibe.

Where He Is Now

Aside from the short ceremony immediately after the Chelsea game and a few cameos during pregame ceremonies, Levesque has slipped into civilian life fairly quietly. Always good for a useful quote, comfortable with the media and a natural teacher, he hasn’t shown any interest in getting into broadcasting or trying his hand at the professional coaching ranks.

What They Said

 

"Roger is a unique individual. I always called him a 'soccer bohemian' – he was the kind of guy who would walk around with a backpack and have his soccer shoes in there.

"It was definitely satisfying to see him score those goals. He had a flair for the dramatic. He came up with them because when that opportunity presented itself, he was around because of the hard work that he did.

"He wasn’t always going to be the prettiest or so skillful, but he was going to work so hard that if a ball was going to fall free or shake free, he was going to take advantage of it.

"He didn’t want a lot. What he wanted was that opportunity to play and he’d be there for you every day. I think that’s one of the unique qualities that Roger had and it brought a lot of that connection to fans. He played from the bottom of his heart."

– Sigi Schmid, Sounders head coach

True to his everyman persona, Levesque simply enrolled in the MBA program at the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business. Some 18 months later, he finds himself hoping to graduate in June.

He seems at peace with his decision to hang up his boots, despite being a still relatively young 33 years old. Levesque had never been a regular starter during an MLS career that spanned at least parts of seven seasons and saw the writing on the wall.

After seeing regular minutes in his first three years with the MLS Sounders, his playing time shrunk to 183 minutes through four matches in 2012. By the time that final appearance vs. Chelsea rolled around in July, he was riding a streak of 14 straight league games without seeing the pitch.

“I think it was the right time in terms of playing," he tells MLSsoccer.com. "I don’t miss the soccer part. I was ready to face that next challenge. I wasn’t quite sure what that was going to be, which is why school has been an opportunity to experience so many things and meet new people. Being able to do that here in Seattle, it’s been awesome.”

The transition from professional athlete to full-time student hasn't been without some challenges. While Levesque says he was always a reasonably good student – as his bachelor’s degree from Stanford should attest – he admits that once he became focused on soccer as a career, his main focus in school was to do well enough to be allowed to keep playing.

Once he was playing, most of the reading he did was simply for pleasure. He jokes that he now regrets not taking the time to regularly read The Wall Street Journal.

Levesque spent two months last summer in Zimbabwe working with Grassroot Soccer, a nonprofit organization that uses the sport to help promote HIV and AIDS awareness in Africa.

(Courtesy of Roger Levesque)

“It was difficult for me, trying to try to figure that out,” Levesque says about returning to school. “So many things have changed since I was last a student in 2003. It took awhile to adjust.

“I was looking forward to the challenge and wasn’t sure what to expect and get back into it. I wasn’t quite prepared for how much time it would take for me to figure it out. It initially felt like I was fighting an uphill battle.”

Going back to his soccer base seems to have helped him find his form in the classroom. Especially during his early years with the Sounders, Levesque supplemented his income by doing youth clinics. Even after it was no longer an economic necessity, he continued to work with youngsters as a coach and was among the Sounders’ most eager community volunteers.

That experience was part of what inspired him to spend two months last summer in Zimbabwe working with a nonprofit organization called Grassroot Soccer, whose mission is using the game as a way to promote HIV and AIDS education and prevention in Africa.

Although Levesque doesn’t think he needs to do something as extreme as moving to Africa in order to make a similarly valuable contribution to society, he does admit that he’s still trying to figure out what he wants to do with his degree.

“That’s the million-dollar question,” he quips. “If you have the answer, I’d love for you to let me know.”

Spoken like just another soon-to-be college graduate in Seattle.