The Happiest Sounder
Posted by: Matt Gaschk
A long journey has brought Joseph Gillies and his endearing smile to the Sounders FC Academy.
Joseph Gillies smiles a lot.
Whether he is talking about school, the food he eats or the family he spent the last four years of his life living with while in Uganda.
There are two things that he saves a special smile for - soccer and his adopted family in Maple Valley, Wash.
To understand where that smile comes from - the many miles it has traveled and the many hardships it took to create the beaming glow on the face of the 15-year-old Sounders FC Academy player - can be painful. It even brings his mother, Suzy Gillies, to tears talking about it.
He didn’t have much growing up in Uganda. But much of what he did have was stripped away when his birth father died when Joseph was just six years old. Four years later, that little that remained was taken too when his mother died, leaving him and his eight brothers and sisters virtually on their own.
That is where his journey that brings him to the rave green begins - and where the smile meets its origin.“Let me tell you from the beginning,” he grins, knowing that you won’t be able to help but be inspired, enthralled, enraged and enthused by his voyage.
He was playing soccer on a field in Uganda when Suzy Gillies came by with a group of youth soccer players. She was on her second trip to Uganda and on this trip she intended to adopt a child. She was somewhat discouraged when she felt no connection to the first group of orphaned children she met. Then came Joseph.
She joined in the game - they didn’t play with shoes and the ball was just rolled up garbage bags. Almost instantly Suzy and Joseph bonded. She quickly learned the story of the orphan and not long after, he began calling her Mom.
Soon, though, she flew back to Seattle with her team, but didn’t feel right.
“I felt like I left a big part of my heart in Uganda,” said Gillies.
She didn’t think her husband Shawn would adopt a 15-year-old boy from Uganda, especially with four children of their own, but the Gillies family started sending money to help send Joseph to the best school in Uganda – both for education and for soccer. For nine months, they called him every week and Joseph soon started calling Shawn “Dad.”
Then, he flew to Uganda with her to see the boy and do missionary work. After the trip, they flew back home in tears knowing that they needed to do something more. The moment they landed, they started the adoption process.
Not long after, the adoption was finalized and Joseph joined his new family with two brothers and two sisters in Maple Valley. To help him acclimate himself to his new home, they got him involved in a local soccer club. When it became apparent quickly that he was actually quite talented, Gillies was connected to Darren Sawatzky and the Sounders FC.
“The time I came here to the United States, my mom didn’t know that I was good at soccer,” Joseph laughed. “They brought me for a tryout and gave me new shoes, shin guards, socks – it was my first time to have shin guards and I was so happy.”
The young creator quickly bonded with the players he will call teammates when he officially joins the Academy program in June.
Now, as drastically as his world has changed in the last year, he is starting to change the lives of those around him in his new home.
“That kid makes my day every time I see him. He’s got a good life here and he knows it. He’s just an awesome kid to have around,” Sawatzky said. “It’s infectious. He makes you happy. It translates to a good atmosphere in training and on game day. When things aren’t going so well, a kid that approaches things like that drags a team in and they’re willing to do more.”
He is adapting to life in his new home, but also to the American soccer game - which tends to be more physical. Naturally slight, Joseph finds himself going toe to toe with players much larger than he is, so he has added weight training and a bulkier diet - he loves hot dogs - to his normal soccer habits in efforts to ease the pounding he might take against stronger opponents.
In his first games in America, he helped his ODP team to the national finals in Arizona. But his on-field success should come as no surprise. His older brother plays for Uganda’s National Team and Joseph is said to be on a similar path.
However, his goal is to one day play for the US National Team and go back to Uganda to start an orphanage.
“I’m working hard to have a good future so I can help people back there,” he said.
Hearing the lofty goals of her new son, Suzy herself is beaming with a grin of her own.
You see, that’s the best thing about Joseph Gillies. When he smiles, you can’t help but smile yourself.