By Don Ruiz
The News Tribune
The start of Will Bates' professional soccer career was delayed by injury, but now that he's back on the pitch, he is clear about what he hopes to accomplish.
"I didn't come here to be a practice player," he said last week after signing with the Seattle Sounders, his first pro contract.
On Tuesday the rookie forward from Virginia took a first step in the direction he wants to go, scoring the winning goal in Seattle's 2-1 MLS Reserve League match with San Jose.
On a corner kick, Bates made a run to the near post. When the kick went beyond him, he doubled back in front of the goal, finding the right position to send a rebound into the net.
"He got an opportunistic goal, which is good," coach Sigi Schmid said. "He's another guy who doesn't mess around when he gets in front of goal, which is what I like. ... He's (still building fitness) so it's tough to give him a full evaluation at this stage, but he's got qualities. He's got a quick release. He gets in front of goal. He jumped on a rebound, which is something you want to see from forwards."
Over four seasons at Virginia, Bates recorded 46 goals and 10 assists in 77 matches. He finished as the No. 7 goal-scorer in school history, was a member of the United States U-20 team and was on the 2012 watch list for the Hermann Trophy, given to the nation's top player.
But knee pain and the possibility of surgery loomed over his appearance at the player combine preceding the MLS drafts.
Both rounds of the SuperDraft passed without his name being called. Finally, he was selected by the Sounders with the fifth overall pick of the Supplemental Draft.
"It definitely wasn't how I planned it, with the injury and surgery and stuff," Bates said. "I think it maybe changed things up a little bit, but I think that was a little fuel and motivation -- that I wasn't drafted in (the SuperDraft) and seeing my name get passed. Then when the Sounders gave me a chance, it gave me every reason to come out here and fight every day to try and earn a spot on this team."
Bates had meniscus surgery after the draft and then reported to Seattle to rehab with the club. He made his playing debut in a reserve game at Los Angeles on April 15. The club signed him four days later.
"It's always been a dream to become a professional soccer player, since I was a kid," he said. "After two months of being here and rehabbing, I'm grateful for the time they gave me to get back on the field, so it's nice to be here."
Bates has come off the bench in both of his appearances as he continues to get in shape. He was given extra fitness work after training Thursday, as he tries to make up for the preseason time he missed.
"Each day is getting a little bit easier," he said.
"Once you get fit enough the thinking becomes a lot easier on the field when you're not tired. ... (You've) just got to start from the bottom and work your way up slowly through the reserves, and when that opportunity comes you have to make the most of it."
The Sounders scrimmaged against Sounders U-23 on Friday, winning 2-0 on goals by Alex Caskey and Lamar Neagle. The club then took the weekend off before returning to training today when preparations will begin for the MLS match Saturday at Philadelphia. ... Defender Patrick Ianni has returned to full training after being out since the first days of training camp with a foot injury. Ianni expressed hope of being available for the 18-man roster next weekend. However, Schmid indicated Ianni may have to get closer to 90-minute fitness. ... Sounders U-23 goalkeeper Doug Herrick has signed with Major League Soccer as an emergency pool goalkeeper.
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