After celebrating Roger Levesque’s ten seasons in Seattle on Wednesday when he played his last game before officially retiring, the Sounders FC are left now with the task of continuing their winning culture without a player who has proven vital to the club’s success at the USL and MLS levels.
His contribution to the club and its history is not something that is simply replaced with a new player, but is a process that will take time.
“Good cultures don’t build themselves. They have to shaped and nurtured and led and when you lose pieces of that culture you do have to be cognizant of that,” said Sounders FC owner/GM Adrian Hanauer. “You can’t just go out and find another person who has Roger’s personality. He was the glue within the locker room.”
If Hanauer has a particular attachment to Levesque, it may be because he and then-USL head coach Brian Schmetzer signed Levesque to play on loan with the Sounders in the summer of 2003. While he was in an out of Seattle over the first three years while under contract with the San Jose Earthquakes in MLS, by 2006, he had identified himself as a Seattlite. His role in the club’s transition from the USL to MLS in 2009 was important in maintaining that winning culture.
In his first two seasons with the Sounders FC in MLS, he totaled 770 minutes and three goals, starting in seven of the 30 league matches he played. In 2011, though, he would surpass many of his statistics from the first two years combined, scoring three goals in 1,062 minutes while making nine starts in 19 appearances.
That has included stints as a right back, though he played primarily in the outside midfield and in his most comfortable forward role.
That malleability was borne of his willingness to do anything he was asked to help the team win. That, Schmetzer says, is part of the reason Levesque has been so valuable to the Sounders and such an important part of the community.
“You need guys like Roger to make your team successful,” said Sounders FC assistant coach Brian Schmetzer, who coached Levesque with the USL Sounders. “I think our fans understand that and that’s why there is such a deep appreciation for him.”
In 130 matches with the Sounders in the USL from 2003-2008, Levesque had 27 goals, helping the Sounders to the USL title in 2005 and 2007, as well as the US Open Cup semifinals in 2007 and 2008.
He continued to play a key role at the MLS level, but the most important role he played was in bridging the gap between the USL success and the MLS upstart.
“They were that great link between that culture and chemistry that we had built up with the USL team,” Hanauer said. “I don’t think it’s coincidental that the culture led to two USL championships and two US Open Cup semifinal appearances. I’m a big believer that culture breeds success. When other players started joining us in 2009, they came into an existing Sounders soccer culture and Roger was a huge part of that culture.”
Added Schmetzer, “What he’s done is carried on a tradition that started back in the 70s and 80s that the guys that came over to Seattle really bonded with the fans and the community here in Seattle. Roger and Taylor Graham pushed that bar even higher. They do tremendous amounts of work in the community that nobody talks about.”
Carrying on a tradition that started with the likes of Jimmy Gabriel and Alan Hinton, key figures for the Sounders in the North American Soccer League era for the Sounders, Levesque came from far-reaching lands, but settled and became a Seattlite in the process.
He will stay in Seattle upon his retirement, too, pursuing his MBA at the University of Washington starting in the fall.
“I am excited that there will be this new generation of Alan Hintons and Jimmy Gabriels who live in the community and will be leaders whether it’s in the soccer community or the business community or the non-profit community and that the Sounders can say they played a small part in shaping those leaders,” Hanauer said.
The Sounders will honor Levesque when they host the Portland Timbers on October 7.