It’s been just over a year since what Xander Bailey described as “the greatest day of my life.”
On July 19, 2014, Bailey and his family arrived at CenturyLink Field in a limo. After finding out he would be in the starting lineup against Tottenham Hotspur, Bailey went to change clothes at his locker, which was situated between those of Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins. The teenager from West Virginia then played the opening moments of Sounders FC’s friendly with the English Premier League side.
When Bailey substituted out of the match, a crowd of 55,349 started chanting his name. He signed autographs for many of those fans after the game and was later featured on SportsCenter.
Bailey got to play for Sounders FC through the Make-A-Wish Foundation, which grants the wishes of children diagnosed with life-threatening medical conditions. Bailey, who suffers from cystic fibrosis, has supported the Sounders from across the country ever since they entered MLS in 2009. On the day before he suited up against Tottenham, Bailey signed an official contract with Seattle and trained with the squad at Starfire Sports.
It was an adventure that, one year later, still crosses his mind each and every day.
“I think about it all the time. It was an experience I can’t forget,” Bailey said in a phone conversation with SoundersFC.com. “I still can’t believe it happened. It’s kind of hard to grasp.”
Bailey would return to Seattle four months later, when Sounders FC presented him with a 2014 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup medal. While he admits that nothing can top being part of the Sounders family, Bailey is also looking forward to the next step in his soccer career over on the East Coast.
In May, a couple of weeks before his high-school graduation, Bailey decided he would attend Concord University in the fall. Concord is a Division II school located about 20 miles from Bailey’s hometown of Bluefield, WV. He will be a walk-on on the men’s soccer team.
“I don’t really know what to expect,” said Bailey, who trained with the Concord team a couple of times earlier this summer. “I fit in really well with the guys on the team though, so I think it will be a good thing for me. …I’m just blessed to have the ability to play the game.”
Bailey has known he wanted to be a college soccer player since he began playing competitively at age nine. He showed what he is capable of during his senior year at Mercer Christian Academy, scoring 22 goals in just 15 games for the Cavaliers. His success comes as no surprise to the players and coaches of Sounders FC, who were impressed by the talent he displayed during that training session at Starfire last year. At the time, Dempsey described Bailey as a “skillful” player.
Mainly an attacking midfielder, Bailey played in the Premier Development League with the reserve team of Southern West Virginia King’s Warriors for the last two years. He often went up against collegiate players, which gives the 19-year-old confidence ahead of his first season at Concord.
“I think that’s really going to help me as I go into college,” he said. “The game is just so much faster. I think it will help my transition a lot since I have some experience. Plus I did get to train with Seattle, even if it was just one day. That definitely helped me with the difference in the speed of the game.”
Bailey sure seems to have a bright future ahead of him on the soccer field. But that isn’t the only sport he excelled in during the past year at Mercer Christian.
In the spring, his team won the West Virginia Christian Education Association (WVCEA) state title in both basketball and track and field. Bailey played every minute of the state basketball championship game. He also took home an individual award in track and field: first place in the long jump.
After winning the WVCEA state championship, Bailey’s basketball team played at nationals in Eire, Pennsylvania, and made it all the way to the national title game.
“We were all proud of it,” Bailey said. “It was disappointing with the loss, but playing in a national title game is not too bad. …It was an experience I’ll never forget.”
Bailey has a very large set of trophies in his room, none more special to him than the Open Cup medal he received from Sounders FC in November. To this day, he says, random people still approach him and exclaim, “Hey, you were on ESPN! Can I get a picture?”
Bailey remains a die-hard Sounders fan in West Virginia, watching every game he can and occasionally attending a match when the team plays on the East Coast. His ultimate goal hasn’t changed in the last year: Bailey wants to put on a Sounders FC jersey again one day.
“It’s pretty out there,” he said. “But that definitely is my goal.
“Even if I don’t play, I want to be able to do something with Seattle one day and work for the Sounders. Maybe something in the medical field – I’ve been kind of thinking about that. It’s definitely the place I want to be and the team I want to support, because they’ve had a big impact on my life.”