Not many 15 year old soccer players get an opportunity to suit up for their national teams.
Sounders FC Academy goalkeeper Paul Christensen not only got to wear the US U-17 National Team kit, but he got to make his debut against Mexico, drawing the top rival 1-1 in Spain on October 15.
Since then, he has made three more starts and on Wednesday he will make his debut on American soil when the US faces France in a series of friendlies in Florida that will also include matches against Turkey and Brazil.
For Christensen, the matches have marked a dramatic transformation over the past few years.
He found soccer only recently, but quickly figured out that he had a passion for playing goalkeeper. He has worked hard at the craft and quickly moved up the competitive ladder, moving from FC Alliance to Northwest Nationals to Washington Premier before landing with the Sounders FC Pre-Academy team last year. Then, he caught the eye of the US Residency program in Bradenton, Florida, and he was faced with his most difficult decision yet.
“It was a hard decision. I think I talked with my parents for two or three days about it,” Christensen said. “In the end, I decided that I wanted to pursue soccer because I want to play professionally and I thought that if I came down here it would give me the best shot at becoming a professional.”
He has already taken advantage of the opportunity in his first three months in Florida. He made the leap to the Residency team as the No. 4 goalkeeper, but quickly earned the starting role.
He always thought he’d get the chance to play when he made the decision to move across the country, but never imagined that the opportunity would come so quickly. The learning curve has been steep in the early-going and the improvements have already shown up in his play.
“His presence, his confidence …” said Sounders FC director of youth development Darren Sawatzky. “He’s mature in his approach. He’s a good kid on and off the field and he works his tail off. It was a good decision sending him there and it will be great having him back in rave green.”
Christensen has become known for his vocal authority with his defenders. However, it wasn’t a characteristic that he picked up watching the ever-verbal style of now-retired Sounders FC keeper Kasey Keller.
While playing rec-league soccer when he was a student at Washington State University, Christensen’s father developed a reputation for shouting from the goal at a volume that could be heard from all around campus.
That confidence and leadership on the field have helped him develop a quick rapport with his teammates and a reciprocated confidence from his coaches.
However, he knows nothing is guaranteed. Especially when you’re playing at such a high level.
“Everybody here is good enough to make the roster. You have to stay focused to get on the next trip,” he said. “That’s what I like – it’s a good motivation to keep working hard because the next three guys are right behind you and they all want your spot.”
With that demeanor, Christensen appears poised to follow in the line of top-caliber goalkeepers from the region – from Keller to Marcus Hahnemann to MLS Cup finalist Tally Hall.
If his first few months in the Residency program are any indication, he will be there sooner than later.
“That’s my plan,” he said, without a hint that it’s too daunting a task.
Watch Christensen and the US U-17s face France at 2 pm live on Fox Soccer.