When the Chicago Fire selected Jackson Ragen with the 33rd overall pick in the 2021 MLS SuperDraft, the Seattle native never thought he’d be starting matches for his hometown Sounders just over a year later.
Ragen, a 6-foot-6 center back who was the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year as a senior at the University of Michigan, ended up signing with the Tacoma Defiance, the Sounders’ MLS NEXT Pro team. He made 16 appearances in the USL Championship before the Sounders inked him to a First Team contract in February 2022.
After an offseason that saw the departure of Shane O’Neill and a return to a traditional left back position for Nouhou, the Sounders were dealt an early blow as Yeimar went down with an injury that looked to threaten a promising Concacaf Champions League run. But Head Coach Brian Schmetzer threw Ragen into the deep end headfirst, and he’s rewarded that trust by putting in some incredible shifts early into his MLS career.
“Jackson’s been great,” said Schmetzer. “There is competition. He’s going up against a guy who plays for the Ecuadorian national team and a guy who was a finalist for Defender of the Year last year, and Jackson is putting pressure on those two for playing time. That’s what you want. It’s pushed the whole group.”
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Ragen, 23, started and went all 90 minutes in a hostile away environment at Club León in the CCL quarterfinals, helping the Sounders stave off their first of two Mexican opponents. Then he started both legs of the semifinal, as Seattle conceded just twice to New York City FC en route to a 4-2 aggregate win.
He has also made seven appearances (six starts) in MLS play. Among center backs, he’s in the 93rd percentile for clearances, 91st for dribbles completed and 75th in aerial duels won. Despite his rookie status, he’s quickly earning the trust and respect of his teammates.
“I’m a big fan of Jackson’s,” said forward Jordan Morris. “He’s an incredible player and has a really good mentality. As a center back, he’s so poised on the ball, he can get us out of tough situations and can play really good long balls to break pressure. He’s a really good defender as well. He has all the tools to be super successful. We’ve all been really impressed with him. He’s going to continue to grow and get better.”
Ragen will continue to fight for more playing time this season and beyond, as he and fellow young center back AB Cissoko push Xavier Arreaga and Yeimar for minutes. For now, though, Ragen is just happy to be back at home and is relishing the opportunity to play in front of family and friends.
“It’s been a dream come true,” said Ragen. “My childhood team that I’ve been a fan of forever, and it feels great to be on the field, especially playing at home…I [did not take] the normal path to getting here, but I’m very happy to be back.”