Jason Rojo will never forget the first time he marched out of the tunnel at CenturyLink Field. The nervous anticipation had been brewing for weeks, and it finally reached its peak as he heard the theme music played at every MLS stadium signaling that the game was just moments away.
"I was almost in tears because it was such an incredible moment," said Rojo.
He's not a hot, young prospect that was scouted for years by Adrian Hanauer, Chris Henderson and Sigi Schmid, but on that day, he sure felt like one. Rojo is 39 and works for Marine View Beverages in Olympia. He has been a season ticket holder for Sounders FC since 2009, runs the Olympia chapter of ECS—called Black Hills Militia---and this year he took part in Sounders FC Adult Dream Camp, which culminated with a match at CenturyLink Field on Saturday.
He was one of 36 participants in the first Sounders FC Adult Dream Camp. They were wide-ranging in ages and abilities, but all were there to get the experience of being a Sounders FC player.
On Wednesday, Sounders FC Assistant Coach Brian Schmetzer greeted them at CenturyLink Field and all 36 players signed contracts as if they were signing with the top club in MLS.
Over the course of three days, they would get on-field instructions from Schmetzer and Sounders FC Assistants Ezra Hendrickson, Tom Dutra and Dave Tenney. They also had meetings with Hanauer, current players Chad Marshall and Gonzalo Pineda, as well as Sounders legends Roger Levesque and Alan Hinton.
The coaching staff put them through three days of training, building toward a match on Saturday. Using the visiting locker room, each played had their own locker with Sounders FC nameplate, home and away kits, and a full training kit.
"We tried to make sure we hit something for everybody and made sure that everybody had a good time," said Sounders FC Manager of Youth Programs Mike Morris. "We wanted to make sure that everybody who was there just for the experience had a good experience and that the people who were there for training had a chance to get some good training in."
Rojo wasn't sure what to expect going in. He plays recreationally for ECS FC in the second division of the Greater Seattle Soccer League and for Westside United in the Starfire First Division, so he was hoping to get the experience of training and playing like a professional. Rojo learned of the camp after Sounders FC captain Brad Evans tweeted about it and his family and girlfriend signed him up as a 40th birthday gift, a birthday he will celebrate next month.
After three days of training, the match on Saturday was the pinnacle for the players in camp. The teams streamed into the locker room and prepared for the match, doing what they could to warm up and shake out the butterflies.
"Walking into the locker room and finding your locker and sitting down brought back so many memories. Soccer on the televisions, soccer tennis court in the middle of the locker room, the camaraderie, the joking, the banter … it's like I never left," Rojo said. "Going out on the field to train and work hard and learn new things and improve your game was so great. Being able to train with high level coaching and being around the whole thing again was fantastic. That's what it was like for me. A trip down memory lane."
The butterflies were replaced with goosebumps when each player was introduced in the stadium as friends and family watched from the stands, complete with full video introduction.
Schmetzer led one team while Hinton led the other. Rojo had his greatest expectations realized when he held the opposition scoreless as goalkeeper in the first half, then took the field in the second half and scored on a free kick, eventually winning 3-0.
"The fact that I scored in CenturyLink in the crest that I hold so dear and on the field that my heroes play on was a huge moment that I'll never forget," he said.