When Marlon Vargas joined Sounders Academy in 2016, he had one thing on his mind: Signing a professional contract with the club and, one day, suiting up for the First Team at CenturyLink Field.
The 17-year-old Sounders 2 midfielder was born and raised in Bakersfield, California, and he’s been playing the beautiful game for as long as he can remember. When it became clear he possessed a knack for soccer, he joined local club Central California Aztecs, which is a youth affiliate of Sounders Academy.
“[Aztecs] was great,” Vargas said. “I had been playing with them my entire life since I was super young. I think they’ve been a big help with developing me as a player, and off the field, [they taught] me to be responsible and be a good person in the community.”
It was with the Aztecs -- one of California’s storied youth clubs -- that Vargas first honed his penchant for scoring audacious goals and creating chances at will for his teammates. When Sounders Academy announced its new relationship with the Central California side, he was one of the first players invited to Seattle for a trial in the spring of 2016.
Needless to say, the trial was successful.
But when he received an offer to join Sounders Academy full-time, starting in August of 2016, he was faced with a difficult decision. An incredibly ambitious individual, Vargas made his mind up immediately.
“I was 15 when I moved to the Academy,” he recalled. “For me, it wasn’t so hard to move away because I love soccer. But moving away from my family, because we’re so close together, was really difficult.”
Now that he’s achieved his initial goal, it’s been an incredibly rewarding experience for his family, who he says always had his back.
“My family is happy for me, and they’ve supported me my entire life. They’re excited for me.”
Ever since Vargas’ first match for the Sounders, the club has been acutely aware of his immense potential.
“Marlon is a big talent, and this year has been a breakout year for him,” said Assistant Coach Wade Webber. “The thing I get so excited about when I watch Marlon is when he has the ball at his feet and he's driving at someone. He's not the fastest player, but the way that he uses his body weight, changes the angle of the ball, he has almost a perfect sense of timing in terms of when to release a pass, when to bait you into a challenge and go by you.
“He projects an intention to the defender that’s actually nowhere close to what he plans on doing,” continued Webber. “He’s a goal scorer, but he’s also a creator. He gets tons of assists. That versatility is really important for any young player who is going to make the jump to professional soccer.”
In the first half of his debut with the Sounders U-16s, Vargas was on the receiving end of a harsh challenge, which sent him to the sidelines to receive treatment. When Head Coach Mike Morris asked him if he was okay to re-enter the game, he didn’t hesitate.
Within 10 minutes of returning to the fray, Vargas had bagged a hat trick in his first ever match in the Rave Green. That dynamic, game-breaking display in his debut was a harbinger of things to come.
Through 38 matches with the U-17s this season, Vargas has tallied 20 goals and 27 assists for the Rave Green, including a breakout performance at Generation Adidas Cup, a youth tournament that pits MLS Academies against their counterparts from Brazil, Mexico, Germany, England, and Spain. With four goals and five assists from five matches, he was awarded the GA Cup Golden Ball as Seattle won the event.
Just a few weeks later, the Bakersfield native, who left home at a young age to pursue his dream of becoming a professional player, inked his contract with S2.
"Marlon has earned his contract with S2,” said Sounders FC Director of Player Development and Academy Director Marc Nicholls. “He can do things to change a game and he's a wonderful player to watch, a really exciting talent. He still has a lot to learn and develop -- like all young players -- but he has the potential to be a difference maker."
After impressing in his S2 debut against Portland Timbers 2, the coaching staff believes the sky’s the limit for the talented youngster.
“We gave [Marlon] a little taste against Portland and I really liked what I saw from him,” S2 Head Coach John Hutchinson said. “First impression was that he was great, and I thought he did well. Now it’s just mainly about developing the physical attributes needed to be a footballer and to make the next step to MLS and beyond. I always talk about ‘beyond’ because players like Marlon have a ceiling that could be anywhere he decides it to be. It’s up to him now.”
Players with great vision, technique, and creativity are a rarity in the American soccer ethos. But Vargas, who molded his playing identity with Aztecs before accelerating his development with Sounders, possesses all the tools to be a top-level player with the flair and confidence to become a fan favorite in Tacoma.
Seeing his friends from the U-17s like Alfonso Ocampo-Chavez, Ray Serrano, and Azriel Gonzalez all sign with S2 made Vargas’ dreams more tangible. And now that he’s followed in their footsteps, he hopes he can blaze a trail for the younger players in the Academy.
“I looked up to Azriel, Alfonso, and Ray because I wanted to get to where they were, and now I’m here,” Vargas said. “So, now, I want the kids from the Academy to look up to me and say, ‘I want to be like him and get up to S2 with the rest of the boys.’”