When it comes to loyalty to the Seattle Sounders organization, Tacoma Defiance midfielder Marlon Vargas embodies that quality about as much as anybody.
The 21-year-old found himself at something of a career crossroads when Defiance made the switch from the USL Championship to the MLS NEXT Pro before the start of the 2022 season. He could hardly have been faulted if he had sought a change of scenery that would have kept him in the USL.
As it turned out, Vargas made the decision to remain with Tacoma, where he’s thrived as one of the league’s best attackers in the club’s inaugural MLS NEXT Pro campaign, which ended in a Best XI selection and a postseason berth (TICKETS).
“I think the first that comes to mind when this kind of transition happened and MLS NEXT Pro started and we were one of the inaugural teams playing in this league in the first year, is that Marlon, he stayed loyal,” Sounders Vice President of Player Development Henry Brauner told SoundersFC.com “He signed a contract, the contract said you're going to be playing for this club for this duration, and he stayed loyal to that.
“There's a level of honor and integrity there that we knew he always had and it was just proved by his willingness to honor his contact, stay with the club and now he's one of the most dynamic, versatile players in MLS NEXT Pro,” he added. “He’s given himself a lot of options, not just here, but also elsewhere. And again, he's 21-years-old and played over 80 professional games, so he's in a good spot in that sense.”
Vargas’s importance to the club goes beyond what he provides on the stat sheet, where he’s put up 12 goals and six assists in 23 games.
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Brauner said Vargas has taken it upon himself this season to be one of the club’s vocal leaders, willing to work with the young players that are looking to follow his path. That’s made him an asset on the training ground, and has manifested itself during the games, with Tacoma taking the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference with a 14W-6L-4D record (49 points).
“As we know, when you teach somebody something that you already know, you become better at it yourself,” said Brauner. “And that's why we've seen him speak with some of the younger players, we've seen him able to help steer them the right way and steer them in a way that has helped him be successful so now that he's now hopefully giving that knowledge and encouragement to a younger player that can now emulate and follow in those pathways and footsteps like Marlon did.”
All of that has served to open doors for Vargas that may not have been there before this season. The advent of MLS NEXT Pro means that Vargas is consistently playing in front of Sounders First Team staff as well as coaches and executives from other clubs.
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Those people are seeing Vargas’s ability firsthand on a weekly basis. Given how he’s performed, Brauner said there should be no shortage of opportunities for Vargas to have in front of him as he assesses his next move.
It’s an example of the multiple ways Seattle’s youth development can advance a player’s career.
“Now there's a clear benchmark, what we have in this position, what Tacoma Defiance has in that position, and they're comparing across different teams. That's something that because Marlon is at the age he's at with the experience he has, he's going to make himself very interesting to a lot of different clubs, not just our own,” said Brauner. “We're happy for him because he's going to have massive opportunity moving forward. And again, it goes back to the question about he was loyal.
“He honored his contract and now he's put himself in a very good position.”