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Levesque caps long journey back to MLS

Six years after making his MLS debut with the San Jose Earthquakes, Roger Levesque made his first career MLS start Sunday in a 1-1 draw with the Houston Dynamo.

“One that would have fruit must climb the tree.” – Thomas Fuller

To watch Roger Levesque on the pitch is to watch pure joy. Many who play love the game, but there is a sincerity to the versatile Sounders FC reserve that has made him a fan favorite in Seattle. So much so, in fact, that while sitting in the stands at Robertson Stadium in Houston on Sunday, you could practically hear the cheers coming all the way from Seattle when Levesque got his first career MLS start in a crucial 1-1 draw with the conference-leading Dynamo.

That he played the better part of the last six seasons striving to reach that goal made the moment even sweeter.

“He knows that he has to work to get the minutes and ultimately worked hard enough to get the start in Houston in what was clearly a very important game,” Sounders FC owner/GM Adrian Hanauer said. “To have earned Sigi’s respect enough to get a start like that is big. Because he was a USL Sounder doesn’t give him any sort of advantage over another player, so it was very satisfying for me to see him earn his way into the starting lineup.”

Levesque began his pro career in 2003 with the San Jose Earthquakes after being drafted in the third round of the MLS SuperDraft out of Stanford. In that season, he jumped back and forth between the Earthquakes and a loan to the Seattle Sounders of the USL (then the A-League). He remained on San Jose’s roster, but was behind Landon Donovan and Brian Ching on the Earthquakes depth chart and was out on loan to Seattle through the 2005 season. He played only four regular season games off the bench for San Jose in that time.

In a 2004 interview, Hanauer said Levesque fit in the top league in the US. When the league expanded with the additions of Real Salt Lake and Chivas USA in 2005, the owner/GM of the USL Sounders was sure Levesque would find a place on one of those teams, if not another team in the league.

“I’d be stunned if Roger isn’t one of those guys,” Hanauer said at the time. “He will have to earn it, but I view him as a long-term MLS player.”

It wasn’t to be in 2005 though, and Levesque went on to score ten goals to help lead the Sounders to the USL championship. He paired at forward alongside current Sounders FC teammate Sebastien Le Toux when they duplicated the championship feat in 2007, going on to score 27 goals in 130 games with Seattle, putting him fifth on the club’s all-time scoring list. His persistence and work rate paid off when the league expanded to Seattle this year and he survived each round of training camp.

“When I was in San Jose, after the first year I never really got a shot. Moving on the USL, I was able to play day-in and day-out,” said Levesque, who came off the bench in eight games this season before starting on Sunday. “Having the opportunity to play in the MLS again, I never thought I’d get another shot. I have a little better perspective on it, having played six or seven years professionally. That allowed me to be prepared and ready for that shot.”

That his opportunity came in a Seattle uniform may seem to be a bonus, but Levesque says that he wouldn’t have had it any other way.

“The main goal for me was to stay in Seattle. The fact that the MLS team came in made the opportunity great and something that I couldn’t pass up. It’s a home away from home,” said Levesque.

He is a fan favorite, to be sure, and is as faithful to the local fans as they have been to him in his years in a. Seattle uniform. Whether it’s signing autographs after training or shaking hands after the game, the fans can feel the natural sincerity and comfort Levesque has with them – be it the 3,200 that watched him at Starfire in the USL or the nearly 67,000 that watched him against FC Barcelona this month.

That relationship was first evident on opening night of the 2009 season when Levesque subbed on for Fredy Montero in stoppage time. The eruption from the crowd was equal parts applauding newcomer Montero’s two-goal effort and honoring the hard-working mainstay Levesque.

“I guess the first thing that strikes you about Roger is his personality and his spirit,” Hanauer said. “He’s positive, energetic and he just loves to play soccer.”

He is an every-man that hadn’t had anything given to him throughout his career.

But that may belie his athletic credentials. Levesque was as accomplished as they come when he arrived on the pro scene in 2003. He was a two-time All-American on the pitch at Stanford, leading the Cardinal to berths in the semifinal and championship games in his final two season and earning Soccer America’s MVP honors as a senior. At the high school level, he won a total of seven state titles at Maine’s Falmouth High School, winning two in soccer, three in basketball and two more in baseball.

He has taken that winning nature with him to the professional level and has steadily improved since coming to Seattle.

“In general, he’s maintained steady. He’s improved in all areas,” Hanauer said. “He hasn’t changed his technical abilities dramatically, but his tactical understanding of the game is better than when he came to us and part of that is that he’s played so many different positions.”

Indeed, he has seen several positions in his career. Starting as a forward in the USL, but also playing wide on the wing, as a holding midfielder and even as an outside back in times that he was needed there. With the Sounders FC, his role has primarily been as a midfielder off the bench, though that role has expanded in US Open Cup play, where he has tallied one goal and five assists in the tournament and play-in games to help Seattle reach next week’s final against DC United.

His goal there is simple – help Seattle earn their first of many trophies.

“There’s still some soccer left in me,” said Levesque, 28. “I’m just happy that it has worked out in Seattle.”