Paul Rothrock has lived quite the soccer odyssey at just 24. On Saturday night in the Seattle Sounders’ 1-0 win at the Houston Dynamo, his journey continued with a match-winning goal for his hometown team.
The Sounders had been frustratingly unable to break down a Houston side that went down to 10 men in the 21st minute and nine men in the 78th minute. Rothrock entered in the 83rd minute — he came on for an injured Ethan Dobbelaere, who himself was already a substitute — and scored his first career MLS goal in his first MLS match with the Sounders.
“We’re happy for that kid Rothrock for coming in and saving us,” said Head Coach Brian Schmetzer.
Seattle is loaded with talent and end Matchday 12 atop the Western Conference standings and a point off the Supporters’ Shield race. Yet the reason why the Sounders are taking three points back to Seattle with them is because of a player who isn’t even technically on the roster.
Rothrock, along with Cody Baker, who made his first MLS start on Saturday, signed short-term agreements to be eligible for selection this weekend. Both are signed with Tacoma Defiance, Seattle’s MLS NEXT Pro team, and were able to participate on Saturday due to an MLS roster mechanism that allows clubs to use members of its affiliates for certain short periods during the season.
Saturday’s goal was Rothrock’s third in as many matches with the First Team. He also scored against San Diego Loyal SC and the LA Galaxy in the Sounders’ two U.S. Open Cup matches this season and is leaving an indelible mark in his limited time.
“If I could put one word on it, it’d be ‘joyful,’” said Rothrock. “It’s been really good to be back home, and I feel great in my decision.”
Rothrock grew up in Seattle before starring for both Notre Dame and Georgetown collegiately. Toronto FC selected him with the 64th overall pick in the third round of the 2021 MLS SuperDraft, but he signed with TFC’s MLS NEXT Pro side Toronto FC II. After two seasons in Canada, including a couple MLS matches with Toronto’s senior squad, Rothrock forwent offers from abroad and elected to come home.
“I chose somewhere where I felt I would be valued and knew that had a good culture,” said Rothrock. “It’s starting to pay off.”
Rothrock’s early time with Tacoma has been fruitful. He credits Head Coach Wade Webber and Assistant Coach Michael Morris for his further development, but his impact on the First Team so far has been undeniable. He’s comfortable being back where he grew up — he still lives at home with his parents — and this next chapter he’s writing is looking more and more like a successful one.
“It’s been a long journey,” Rothrock said. “I always wanted to come back to Seattle. Looking back on it, I probably wasn’t ready earlier on, now this is ‘Take Two’ of a new MLS team.”
As to whether he’s done enough yet to earn a First Team contract, Rothrock knows that’s out of his hands, but he’s determined to grasp each chance he gets, something he’s done in spades so far this season.
“All I can ask for the club is to continue to get more opportunities,” he said, “and they’ve given me that so far.”