Scott finds his niche with Sounders

  • Tue Jul 10th, 2012 7:24pm
  • Sports

By John Boyle Herald Writer

TUKWILA — When Zach Scott was a much younger player, someone trying to make the leap from soccer’s lower levels to Major League Soccer, he was given a chance to try out with the then Sigi Schmid-coached L.A. Galaxy.

Back then, Schmid liked Scott’s work ethic, but didn’t think there was a place for the defender on the team, so Scott ended up back with the USL Sounders.

“I had actually had Zach down a couple of times in L.A. and had him on trials with me, and just felt at that point — obviously we were a decent team having won a championship — he wasn’t quite strong enough to make our team,” Schmid said.

Scott got a second chance to win over Schmid when Seattle joined Major League Soccer in 2009 with Schmid as the expansion team’s new coach. While he won a spot on the Sounders’ roster, Scott didn’t have a huge role on the team. Even so, just making an MSL roster was a big step in the career of Scott, who at 28 had played for the USL Sounders since 2002 and was ready to retire from soccer and start a career as a teacher had Schmid passed on him again.

Fast forward to this season, and Scott is enjoying his best season yet, already having established career highs in starts and minutes played with nearly half a season remaining on the 2012 schedule.

“It’s been a goal of mine to be more consistent, more of an option for the coaches,” Scott said. “That’s something I struggled with my first couple of years in the league — kind of finding my niche and how I could be the best player for this team, and this year I’ve kind of put it together on a more consistent basis so that they can call my name at any time and put me in and the team won’t miss a beat.”

And if this story sounds familiar — a veteran journeyman defender having his best season as a professional at an age when his career should be in its decline — well that’s because it also was Scott’s story last season.

At 31, Scott played better in 2011 than he ever had in his career. At 32, he has been even better, which has allowed him to start 13 of Seattle’s 19 games and play more minutes than all but four of his teammates. Scott also has added the first goal and assist of his MLS career this season.

Behind Scott’s success is that same work ethic that impressed Schmid years ago, and that has over time turned Scott into a much better overall player.

“You have to admire his grit and determination, the willpower he brings every day to training,” Schmid said. “But more so than that, we talked about, ‘Here are the things you need to improve upon. Here’s what we think you need to get better at.’ And he’s the kind of guy who, if he thinks an hour of extra work will make him better, then he thinks two hours will make him even that much better and three hours could make him outstanding. And then you get to a point where you say, ‘No, there are diminishing returns, you need to slow down.’

“But that’s Zach, he’s going to put everything into it. He’s improved his game. He’s improved his game as much as anybody in the league has over the last three years, and he’s earned the opportunities that he’s gotten on the field. He’s become a valuable member of our team because he can play any of the back four positions.”

For Scott and Roger Levesque, the last two holdovers from the USL Sounders, tonight’s U.S. Open Cup game against Chivas USA represents a sixth straight appearance in the tournament’s semifinal, including four with the MLS version of the Sounders. After being held out of the lineup Saturday, Scott is a very likely candidate to start tonight as Seattle continues its quest for a fourth straight Open Cup title.

Scott long has been a fan favorite for the diehards who pack Starfire Sports Stadium for the Open Cup. With his continually improving play, he is getting more attention from a much broader fan base.

Last weekend, Scott was honored by the Emerald City Supporters — the rowdy fan group that occupies the south end of CenturyLink Field — who held up a pregame display honoring Scott and his 10 years of service with two versions of the Sounders.

“It was so cool,” Scott said of the display, which showed the Hawaiian surfing below a sign that read, “Hanging ten for the Sounders.”

“It really caught me off guard. I hadn’t even seen it originally, and then somebody kind of shoved me in that direction and told me to look. What an honor. The first thing I wanted to do is figure out some way to thank them. If I could’ve run up there and shook everyone’s hands, I would have, because it was so cool, so unexpected.

“For a guy who started out playing in the lower divisions and dreamed of getting to the MLS, the chance to see your name on a huge poster was just fantastic.”

Herald Writer John Boyle: