With all the success Seattle Sounders midfielder Obed Vargas has had so far, at times it almost feels like he forgets how young he is.
Describing what is was like watching the Mexican national team play growing up, he said, “As a kid…or when I was younger,” catching himself and starting to laugh, realizing that, yes, even as a Homegrown talent earning starting minutes in Major League Soccer, it is barely legal for him to operate a car in Washington state.
Vargas was born in 2005 to Mexican parents in Anchorage, Alaska. His father, Obed Sr., played in his native Mexico in the Monarcas Morelia Academy, the same club from which the Sounders signed Designated Player Raúl Ruidíaz in 2018. The money ultimately wasn’t good for Obed Sr., so he moved to Anchorage around 16 to work on fishing boats.
Vargas grew up playing in Alaska, but eager for better competition, he signed with the Sounders Academy when he was 14 and still lives with former Tacoma Defiance teammate Cody Baker and his family. He grew up idolizing the Mexican national team, a love that has evened out with the United States as he’s matriculated through the U.S. Soccer system and competed for the Stars and Stripes at the youth national team level.
When Vargas got the chance last week to start against Liga MX’s Club León, his parents were ecstatic. Vargas recognized the magnitude of the opportunity to share the field with players he had grown up watching on television, but also understood that this was just another stop on what he hopes is a long and successful career.
“It’s just my life now, I have to get used to it,” Vargas said. “It’s going to come even more, playing in these types of games.”
Vargas is a major talent in a league that continues to skew younger, but he demonstrates a maturity and calmness that belies his age. Watching him play in central midfield doesn’t feel like watching a 16-year-old play alongside grown men, and perhaps that’s the biggest compliment one could pay.
“I’m kind of surprised at his steadiness,” said Sounders Head Coach Brian Schmetzer. “Lots of kids are super talented, but they go up, down, up down. Obed is pretty steady…Right now he’s playing with a lot of confidence.”
Schmetzer started Vargas in a now-famous match as Austin FC last summer, one in which Seattle set an MLS record by starting five teenagers and came away 1-0 winners. Vargas was just 15 at the time and became the third-youngest player to ever appear in an MLS match behind only Freddy Adu and Alphonso Davies. Vargas was originally called up from Defiance on an Extreme Hardship rule, but he signed with the First Team this offseason and has started five of six matches in all competitions so far.
“Coming into the season, I was just hoping to get a few minutes,” said Vargas. “I wasn’t expecting to play so much.”
Vargas may have gotten the opportunity to start because of some injuries in midfield to Nicolás Lodeiro and Josh Atencio, but he has certainly seized the moment. He was recently named to MLSSoccer.com’s top 10 list for up-and-coming Homegrown Stars, but he isn’t letting any of the hype get to his head.
“He is a grounded kid,” Schmetzer said of Vargas. “I have to look at the comments I make and make sure that he doesn’t get carried away. He’s still young…He’s coachable. You saw growth in him last year at Defiance.”
If it feels like Vargas is visibly improving every match, it’s because he is. He’s a sponge, which is part youth and part understanding that the players he’s surrounded by have plenty to offer. He is constantly absorbing advice from Ruidíaz, Lodeiro and João Paulo, guys who have experience at the FIFA World Cup and in Europe and in some of the best leagues in the world.
“The players around me give me cues and try to help me throughout the game,” said Vargas. “Every game I play, I gain experience, so it’s just about applying that experience to my next game and the next.”
Added Schmetzer: “One of the things I really appreciate about the Sounders and our culture that started way back when is that all of the senior guys have always helped the younger guys. That’s just been a tradition, even back in the ‘80s when I played.”
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Vargas and the Sounders have a chance to make MLS history by becoming the first team to win Concacaf Champions League. They are in prime position to advance to the semifinals as they head to Estadio León on Thursday (5:30 p.m. PT; FS1, TUDN, iHeart Radio, 1090 KJR AM, El Rey 1360 AM) for the second quarterfinal leg with a commanding 3-0 lead, a match that Vargas played a major hand in, going 90 minutes in the center of the park.
“At preseason, we knew we had something,” said Schmetzer. “Once [Vargas] got that opportunity, you’ve seen some good steps going forward.”