Roger Levesque is one of the most boisterous, uplifting personalities anyone could ever meet.
But when he was asked this week to reflect on what the Sounders mean to him, his voice softens. His words, more carefully measured.
“It really cuts down to the core of me. Everything I’ve worked for. A lot of the relationships I have. It comes back to that. The last nine years of my life have been one way or another devoted to this,” he said.
For the last time in his professional career, Levesque will slip on the Sounders kit when Seattle meets Chelsea FC in a friendly at CenturyLink Field. After ten professional seasons, the 31-year-old from Portland, Maine, announced his retirement on Friday, bringing to an end the celebrated tale of a cult hero.
“I’ve done a pretty good job of living and pushing the limits. A lot of it has been for that - for the Sounders and everything that encompasses. And not just the team,” he said. “Everything that it encompasses.”
Levesque came to the Seattle in 2003 on loan to the Sounders from the San Jose Earthquakes. However, the tale of how he became a Sounder starts before that late-summer loan.
In January of that year, he was with the US U23 National Team in training camp in Portugal when he tore the ACL and MCL in his left knee. That cut short his chances to play in the 2004 Olympics, however slight those chances were, and likely caused a drop in the MLS SuperDraft later that month.
Eventually, he would be selected by the Earthquakes in the third round, 23rd overall. Because he was training in San Jose, he was put in the perfect scenario to do the rehab after his knee reconstruction and still have time to complete his degree at Stanford University, where he starred for four seasons.
Knowing that he would struggle to get playing time in a squad that featured Landon Donovan, Dwayne DeRosario and Brian Ching, USL Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer called San Jose and sought Levesque in a loan deal.
Levesque came to Seattle to visit friends on Seafair weekend, took their boat to owner Adrian Hanauer’s home on Lake Washington, docked, signed his contract, then returned to the water.
He would return in August and sat on San Jose’s bench as a spectator when the Sounders upset them 1-0 in the fourth round of the US Open Cup at Husky Soccer Field, then switched to Seattle’s bench for a 1-0 win over the Portland Timbers four days later.
His first goal for the Sounders came in the 85th minute to tie a match with the El Paso Patriots and was followed by a 90th minute game-winner, foreshadowing the dramatic goals for which he would become legend.
He would return to Seattle the next year on loan and again in 2005 when he helped the Sounders to the A-League championship before the move would become permanent in 2006.
He quickly became an integral part in the Sounders team, scoring 27 goals in 130 regular season matches during the USL/A-League era, helping the team to the league championship in 2005 and 2007 and the US Open Cup semifinals in 2007 and 2008.
Along the way, he scored crucial goal after crucial goal, including all three goals in a 3-0 playoff series win over Portland and the game-winning goal in the 90th minute of a 4-3 win over the Montreal Impact in the semifinals of the 2005 playoffs.
Fittingly, he also scored the final goal of the USL Sounders era, scoring in the 59th minute of the second leg of their playoff series with the Impact to give Seattle a 3-2 series lead, though they would concede two more goals and usher in the inaugural season in Major League Soccer.
There, the memories would continue to unfold.
They started on opening night at CenturyLink Field with a 3-0 win over the New York Red Bulls and in the final moments of the match, Sounders FC head coach Sigi Schmid brought Levesque in as a substitute for Fredy Montero, allowing the crowd the chance to give a cheer for Montero after he scored two in his Seattle debut and another for Levesque, tying together the two Sounders clubs beautifully with one gesture.
“He was a big part of that thread that connected the second division Sounders to the Sounders in MLS and it was important to keep that thread going,” Schmid said.
Later in 2009, he scored just 48 seconds into Seattle’s Open Cup match with the Timbers, instantly taking the wind out of any potential upset bid. Already a figure that was loathed in Portland as he was loved in Seattle, Levesque then added fuel to both fires when he stood like a tree for teammate Nate Jaqua to chop down as the first of his now-famous goal celebrations.
He would go on to score the game-winning goal in the Open Cup final in a 2-1 win over DC United to give the Sounders the first of three straight Open Cup titles.
He also scored the game-winning goal to stop the Columbus Crew’s then-record streak of 22 matches unbeaten at Crew Stadium as well as the game-winner against the Kansas City Wizards to clinch a spot in the playoffs.
The most famous of his goal celebrations came in 2011 when the Sounders hosted the Red Bulls in a nationally televised match on ESPN. Already with one goal to his credit – after which he made a pirate face toward the Emerald City Supporters, fulfilling a footnote in the club’s marketing campaign earlier that season – Levesque took the ball away from New York goalkeeper Greg Sutton and put it in the back of the net, then ran to the advertising boards behind the goal and did a scuba dive plunge off the back, landing on highlight shows for the rest of the year.
All told, he finished with six goals in 53 MLS matches, finishing off nine years of soccer in the Emerald City.
However, he now looks back at that torn ACL as the flap of the butterfly’s wings that sent him to Seattle.
“If I hadn’t done my ACL, who knows? Maybe I wouldn’t have ended up in Seattle. It could have ended up completely differently,” Levesque said. “I don’t know how things worked out.”
It also allowed him to complete his college degree, which leads him to the next phase of his life. After Wednesday’s match against Chelsea, he will take some time off, then start work on his MBA at the University of Washington, where he first saw the Sounders play nine years earlier.
There, he will engulf himself in a two-year program that he hopes will lead him into the public non-profit world, hoping to help the “greater good.” He credits his time with the Sounders with providing that avenue to contribute to the community in that way, particularly since 2009 when the MLS club grasped the hearts of thousands of fans in Seattle and throughout the Puget Sound and beyond.
“I’ve had the opportunity the last four years to really increase how often I get out in the community. To be given that opportunity by the Sounders has been awesome,” he said. “We’re not just in this for ourselves. It’s not just about the players and the soccer. It’s bigger than that. It’s more than that. It’s more important than that.”