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The Next Step

Taylor Graham had the opportunity to continue his pro career at the USL level, but decided instead to retire and stay in Seattle.

For the last four and a half years, Taylor Graham has been synonymous with the Seattle Sounders.

After playing one year with the USL side in 2005, winning the championship while earning the league’s Defender of the Year honors, Graham rejoined the team in July of 2007 after a stint with the New York Red Bulls in MLS.

His first day back in Seattle, July 4, was a beautiful summer day, welcoming Graham to the city that he has since called home.

After three seasons in the USL and three in MLS, Graham announced Friday that he is retiring from professional soccer, finishing a career that included seven seasons in MLS.

“It’s always tough to say goodbye to something that I’ve been doing for so long,” Graham said.  “I love Seattle and I love the Sounders, but I’m ready for the next step in my life.”

Graham played three seasons in the rave green and only had ten appearances across all competitions in that time, but became an integral thread in the fabric of the Sounders FC.  In 2009, he was named the club’s Humanitarian of the Year and has been a staple in the Seattle community as the reach of the organization has grown throughout his time with the club.

His love for the Sounders organization runs deep.  After two seasons with the Kansas City Wizards, he put faith in a former Stanford Cardinal teammate.  Roger Levesque spoke so highly of the club and city that he was playing with on loan from the San Jose Earthquakes that Graham signed with the Sounders soon after being waived by the Wizards.

The decision proved fruitful, as Graham won the 2005 USL Defender of the Year award and helped the Sounders to the USL championship with a win over the Richmond Kickers.  It also earned him a return trip to MLS with New York.

Halfway through his second season with the Red Bulls, though, he was again waived.  As fate would have it, the Sounders were nearing a road match against the Rochester Raging Rhinos.  Graham joined the team in New York, then played as a sub in the second half of Seattle’s 1-0 win.

“Leaving any place where you’ve made it home and you’re not leaving on your own accord is a little bit difficult.  And while it was difficult at the time, I knew that I was going back to an amazing place and that made the transition a lot easier,” Graham said.  “The only place I considered was Seattle.”

Again, the decision proved rewarding.

Seattle went on a 14-match unbeaten streak after Graham joined the team, including 11 in league play and three US Open Cup matches as they advanced to the semifinal before falling to FC Dallas in overtime.  They went on to win the USL championship and the Commissioner’s Cup for the best record in the regular season.

The excitement in Seattle was only just beginning though.  Owner Adrian Hanauer would soon announce that Seattle would be the home of the 15th MLS franchise and the city was abuzz with excitement at the prospect of a top-flight club.

Graham signed with the MLS club days before the start of training camp and was thrilled with the opportunity to make the move back to Major League Soccer in the city that he loved.

However, an injury in the preseason derailed that plan.

“My goal was to make that transition in 2009 and contribute as much as I could on the field.  I came in pretty fit and playing well and had a great preseason, but a bad tackle in preseason set off a domino effect of derivative injuries throughout the year,” he said.  “Trying to come back and play catch up after that point is a lot tougher.”

With those injuries mounting, Graham thrust himself into community involvement, highlighted by his work with America SCORES, where he is now a board member, and Children’s Hospital, among other youth organizations and philanthropic initiatives.

That work continued over the next two years, even as Graham returned to fitness.

His hope, now in retirement, is that the work with so many organizations off the playing field will help his transition out of the world of professional soccer.

“I am officially in the job search mode,” said Graham, 31, who holds a degree in international relations and a Master’s in sociology from Stanford.  “As someone who’s been an athlete for the last nine years, my resume is different than most people.  Some people may look at that as a strength and others may look at it as a weakness.  I’m in a place right now where I need to find a place that will look at my experiences as an asset to an organization rather than a lack of business experience.”

Graham plans to stay in Seattle and hopes to remain involved in sports, but is not limiting himself to opportunities within the realm of athletics.

And while his on the field exploits have been limited in the last three years, that hasn’t stopped USL teams from inquiring about his interest to continue playing at a lower level.  However, Graham is firm in his decision to hang up his boots.

“It’s always flattering to have conversations with anybody about opportunities to play at any level.  Sometimes it’s tough to see that there are still opportunities out there that I’m not going to pursue,” he said.  “But I made the decision to retire for the right reasons and I’m ready to move on to the next stage.”