Player Features

The Pathway: Jackson Ragen and Paul Rothrock's shared journey from Seattle rec soccer to Sounders First Team

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Jackson Ragen and Paul Rothrock have carpooled to soccer practices and games since they were seven years old. 

Back then, they were two young kids from Seattle playing rec ball for the McGilvra Mad Dogs. Now they’re members of the Sounders FC First Team, living out their dream of playing professionally for their hometown club. 

After the Mad Dogs, they moved on to West Side United and Seattle United, where they played on one of the top club teams in the country. Over the course of their youth soccer days, they were shaped and coached by former Sounders like Jimmy McAlister, Tommy Jenkins and Jason Farrell. 

“He was always dominant in the air and had a little bit of an edge to him,” Rothrock said of Ragen’s youth soccer career. “He was always consistent and late in games if we ever needed a goal, it would usually come from a corner kick to Jackson.”

“Paul was always the star attacking player,” added Ragen. “He would always take corners and aim for me every time. I would just do my best to head some in.”

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Ragen and Rothrock then joined Sounders Academy for their U-18 season, a decision that would alter the trajectory of their careers.

“We came in for our senior year of high school and played one year,” said Rothrock. “That ended up being arguably the most fun soccer season of my life given the run our team had and the connection we had with our teammates.”

Ragen and Rothrock’s shared pathway has been anything but linear. 

In an era where most top Academy prospects around the country were signing Homegrown Player deals, Ragen and Rothrock decided to play Division I soccer for the University of Michigan and University of Notre Dame, respectively. The pair went on to play four years of college ball, with Rothrock transferring to Georgetown University, where he won an NCAA National Championship.

Both players entered the MLS SuperDraft but were ultimately unable to crack the First Team rosters of the clubs that selected them. 

“We both took non-traditional routes, as opposed to just signing Homegrown deals from the Academy,” noted Ragen. “A lot has had to align to get us both back here. Going to other clubs didn’t work out, and then we came back here and did well enough with Tacoma to earn an opportunity with the First Team. It’s not luck, but a lot has had to align over multiple years to get back here.

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Going down the road less traveled and experiencing adversity along the way opened the door for them to return home and sign with the Tacoma Defiance. Both Ragen and Rothrock took advantage of the platform provided by the Defiance and earned First Team contracts with their stellar play. 

“When it didn’t work out at our other situations, that taught us some things about the other sides of professional soccer and being at different organizations,” added Rothrock. “I think we’re both better for it coming from that. I don’t know that we’d both be on the First Team if we had gone the more traditional route.”

One figure who played a pivotal role in their shared careers was Wade Webber. The former Sounders center back was their coach in the Academy and with the Defiance, helping them improve as players and traverse the winding path to MLS. 

“We both think he’s a great coach,” said Ragen. “He’s always believed in us and believed that we could get to that next level. I think he’s been super helpful, not just as a coach but as a mentor, growing as a player and as a man. He’s made a big impact on myself and Paul.” 

Now in his third season with the First Team, Ragen has cemented himself as a starter with his boyhood club. The domineering defender has already played 61 MLS matches, helping anchor the league’s best defense in 2023, and earned his first United States Men’s National Team call-up in January.

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After signing with the Defiance in 2023, Rothrock posted seven goals and five assists in MLS NEXT Pro regular season play. He then earned a contract with the Sounders after scoring goals in back-to-back U.S. Open Cup matches while on loan with the First Team. In his MLS debut, Rothrock came off the bench and scored the game-winning goal against the Houston Dynamo on May 23. 

Now that they’re living out their dream with the Sounders, Ragen and Rothrock have a strong desire to help influence the next wave of Seattle soccer players. 

“Just how we looked up to our coaches and looked up to Sounders players, that did so much for us,” said Ragen. “We want to give back in the same way and be that role model for younger kids. Who knows? Maybe coach a youth team way in the future. But [I want] to be able to give back because we’ve gotten so much from Seattle soccer and the Sounders.”

Ragen and Rothrock’s story isn’t just about two kids who made it. The roots of their success can be traced back to the first wave of Sounders back in 1974, and the soccer community that has blossomed over the last five decades.

As the club celebrates its 50th Anniversary season, they feel a responsibility to maintain that tradition of excellence for future generations.

“I feel like like our story is a result of the Seattle soccer community,” said Rothrock. “I hope we can continue that legacy further.”

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