By John Boyle Herald Columnist
TUKWILA — Rejected advertising campaign for tonight’s game between the Seattle Sounders and Chelsea FC: Come for the ‘stache, stay for the European champions.
OK, so maybe I just made that up. And by maybe, I mean I definitely made that up. No one pitched that slogan.
But all joking aside. … Wait, let’s not put all joking aside, not when we’re talking about Roger Levesque, one of the funniest athletes you’ll ever come across. But some joking aside, seeing Levesque — he of the wacky facial hair, goofy goal celebrations and Portland Timbers’ soul-crushing goals — play his final game as a Sounder is in a lot of ways a bigger deal than a quick a visit by one of England’s best teams.
Yes, there will be casual soccer fans more interested in seeing Chelsea’s star players, and there will be Chelsea fans scattered around the stadium to cheer on their team, but for the Sounders fans who will make up the majority of the crowd, saying farewell to Levesque will be priority No. 1 tonight. (One of the coolest elements of past friendlies has been that crowds are largely pro-Sounders, which is far from the norm in other cities when top European teams pay a visit.)
Seattle sports franchises have employed plenty of athletes who were more talented and more famous than Levesque, who is retiring after tonight’s game, but very few athletes in the area have been more loved by fans than Levesque. That he’ll get to have a sendoff from 50,000-plus fans is fitting for a Sounders legend, and also something Levesque never could have imagined when he played for the USL Sounders in front of crowds that numbered in the hundreds.
Levesque isn’t sure how he will react to what will surely be a memorable sendoff, but he admits he may get emotional. And in typical Levesque fashion, he confessed to the media that the last time he cried was on a team flight while watching the movie, “We Bought a Zoo.”
“I’ve held it together pretty well to this point,” said Levesque, who starts graduate school at the University of Washington in the fall. “… I know the potential (for tears) is there. We’ll see how it goes tomorrow.
“It will be a little bit emotional, because the last nine years of my life have been completely dedicated to the Sounders organization. The fans, the players, the front office, anybody and everybody has given me so much and been such an influence in my life. So (there will be) a whole lot of thank yous, a lot of hugs, maybe a few tears, but I’m looking forward to it.”
Levesque, 31, made the leap from the USL to Major League Soccer with the Sounders in 2009. While he was never one of his team’s top players, he had a knack for scoring in big situations, particularly in the U.S. Open Cup, and for keeping fans entertained, both with his scrappy play and his ability to drive the rival Timbers and their fans crazy.
During Seattle’s 2009 Open Cup title run, Levesque scored just 48 seconds into a game in Portland, then played the role of tree while teammate Nate Jaqua chopped him down. By that point, Levesque had long been public enemy No. 1 to Timbers fans, dating back to when Seattle and Portland were regular opponents in the USL, But that moment only endeared him more to Sounders fans, while making Timbers fans hate him more.
Two years later, he scored a pair of second-half goals in a win over New York and celebrated in true Levesque style. He thrilled Sounders fans first by flashing the “pirate face” he had referenced earlier in the year in a Sounders commercial. After the second goal, he performed what he called “the scuba diver,” a celebration that involved sitting on an advertising board and falling backward while plugging his nose.
That Levesque would enjoy himself so much on the field should hardly come as a surprise. The Portland native — and just so we’re very clear here, Levesque wants you to know he’s from Portland, Maine, not that Portland — went to Stanford and was selected in the MLS draft out of college, but played sparingly before being loaned to the USL Sounders. And as anyone who has played in the lower levels of American soccer can attest, that career is a labor of love, not a profitable one.
Levesque did well enough in a tryout to join the MLS version of the Sounders, but “making it” didn’t mean losing his passion or his quirkiness, which is why he is a fan favorite despite starting only 18 MLS games in three and a half seasons.
“There’s a not a day that goes by that Roger doesn’t have a smile on his face,” said defender Zach Scott, Levesque’s teammate dating back to the USL Sounder days. “He just enjoys the game and enjoys life. He’s one of those guys that really accepts what he has and doesn’t take it for granted.
“He’s out there every day just smiling and having fun, and you can see what a quality career he’s had because of it.”
So even if seeing Chelsea in Seattle for the third time since 2004 doesn’t interest you, come for the ‘stache, or the for the pirate face, or most importantly, to say farewell to a unique man who made an indelible mark on the Sounders past and present.
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.