Stephen King jogged off the training field at Starfire in Tukwila on Friday and could barely contain the smile on his face.
The DC United midfielder had jogged off that field a hundred times before, but this time was the first that he’d done it as an outsider. King was traded from the Sounders FC on April 30 in exchange for a 2011 second round MLS SuperDraft pick.
Tonight at Qwest Field when the Sounders FC host DC United jogging onto the Xbox Pitch will likely be even more challenging for King to maintain his composure.
“As soon as I got traded, the first thing I did was look to see when this game was,” said King, the smile creeping back onto his face before he breaks into flat-out laughter. “I have to make sure I don’t start passing to my friends on the Sounders. It is a little strange to be back here as a visitor.”
King was taken by the Sounders FC in the 2008 expansion draft after a solid rookie campaign with the Chicago Fire. With a quiet and friendly demeanor, King quickly became one of the most well-liked players in the locker room. On the field, though, he was caught in a logjam at central midfield. With Brad Evans and Osvaldo Alonso entrenched in the starting role, there weren’t many spare minutes to go around.
In 10 MLS matches for the Sounders, he played 433 minutes. His biggest impact came in the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup, where he scored game-winning goals against the Portland Timbers and the Houston Dynamo to help the Sounders to the Open Cup title - where they defeated DC United 2-1 in the championship match.
At just 24 years old, his game had been improving, but there wouldn’t likely be room for him to show that progress in real competition until late-June when the Sounders entered the Open Cup. At least, until DC United called.
“Sometimes a team is overloaded in a position and another team is under loaded in that position and you’re able to make a trade that works and helps the person and the team go forward,” Sounders FC head coach Sigi Schmid said. “I think in Stephen’s case, it was a good opportunity for him because DC was light in the midfield and we were maybe a little bit heavier there and it gave him a good opportunity.”
He has started the last two MLS matches for United and four matches overall. In those games, the club is 3-0-1 - a particularly stunning record considering their 2-8-1 record in MLS play this season.
For the Medford, New Jersey, native and University of Maryland product, his new east coast club is providing opportunities that just weren’t available in Seattle.
“I came into a situation where I thought I could make a bigger impact with the team. The fact that it is close to home and my family can come to every home game and knowing the area is more comfortable for me,” said King, 24. “That being said, in my time in Seattle - even though I didn’t get as much playing time, I definitely grew as a player. I owe that to my coaches and my teammates.”
Schmid echoes the complimentary sentiments.
“I’m very happy for Stephen because we thought he was a good player,” he said. “He wasn’t ahead of some of the guys in my mind, but he is certainly a quality player and we felt he would get an opportunity to play at DC and it’s worked out well for him.”
With a clear respect for his former coach and teammates in place and the confidence of a fresh start with a now-hot team, who can blame King for beaming with an occasional grin as he preps for his first match as a visitor to Qwest Field.
“It will be really exciting for me. I have a lot of great memories here and whenever you get a chance to play against your old team you’re going to be more motivated. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t,” he said. “I’m looking forward to a fun atmosphere. Qwest always provides that. It should be fun.”
Kickoff is slated for 7 pm at Qwest Field. The game is the final MLS contest before the World Cup break and will be televised nationally on ESPN2.