TUKWILA, Wash. - How many high school age athletes get to say they played in a real game with their local professional team? Such a thrill is normally reserved for daydreams, but that’s exactly what Sounders FC Academy players Ian Lange, Dom Dismuke, and Michael Gallagher got the opportunity to do in Seattle’s MLS Reserve League Opener against the Vancouver Whitecaps on March 26.
The match, which resulted in a 1-1 draw after Vancouver equalized on a header in stoppage time, opened up the ten-match season in which Sounders FC will play Western Conference foes Vancouver, Portland, San Jose, Los Angeles, and Chivas USA twice each. In 2011, Seattle won the Western Conference with 25 points (8-1-1).
For the three academy call-ups, the game is obviously much more than just a season opener.
“Oh yeah. I always look forward to it,” says Lange. “When I get the call it’s one of the most exciting things of the month, year.”
Calling up academy players to reserve matches is nothing new for Sounders FC and Reserve Coach Ezra Hendrickson. This was in fact both Lange and Dismuke’s second Reserve League appearance; they both played in 2011’s home finale, a 3-1 win over San Jose.
“It’s a great experience, first off,” says Dismuke, a lean striker who came on in the 70th minute. “Those guys really play fast and you have to really get used to it and get acclimated, but after a while you get kind of used to it and get the hang of it.”
It was an even bigger event for Lange. He became the first Sounders Academy player to start and play the full 90 minutes in a reserve match. He came on at halftime in his debut.
“It was fun, exciting—a whole new level,” described the lanky, 6’1” defender who normally starts at center back for the U18 Sounders. He was happy with the opportunity and his play, but admits it was a nerve-wracking experience.
“I wasn’t really calm on the ball. I was really nervous to get in and get my first start on a new level...I wasn’t expecting to play right back, it’s not really my normal position, so there was a little throw-off there.”
Gallagher, despite not getting onto the field during the game, had no complaints about the experience.
“Being a part of that whole environment, from the pregame process the night before,” describes Gallagher of his experience. The 6’2” defender is Lange’s partner at center back for the U18’s. “Seeing the dinners they eat compared to the dinners we eat, how they have everything they want. It’s nice to be at that level and see what you could have.”
Dismuke, a speedy attacker in his own right, noticed the speed of the game as the biggest obstacle.
“Biggest thing I think is just playing faster. Seeing the game two steps ahead of everyone else. Those guys see everything so fast,” he explains, but admits the physicality of the defenders was also a bit jarring.
“I actually got a little bruise on my left foot from them. I wasn’t ready for it,” he jokes, however insists that in his next game, if given the opportunity, he will be ready.
“I played my second time and if I get another chance, I feel like I’ll be able to come in and play well and score some goals, hopefully.”
If Sounders fans want to keep up with the progress of these promising academy prospects, they need not go far. Lange, Dismuke, and Gallagher have all committed to play college soccer at the University of Washington. They will be joined by transfers Darwin Jones and Ryan Herman, as well as sophomore Drew White, all Sounders FC Academy products. Jones, a strong, fast forward had 15 goals and 10 assists for Highline Community College last season. Herman, a 6’7” goalkeeper, transfers from Santa Clara.
However, eventually taking the pitch at CenturyLink field in front of 38,000 people is still the ultimate goal.
“Definitely,” says Gallagher. “Especially with the fan base we have with the Sounders. When you go to the games, to see the people playing in it—it’s just what you want to do.”