Most nights this summer, Julio Abad finds himself fighting through the final remnants of evening rush-hour traffic as he drives from his home in Lynnwood all the way to Sumner to take part in Seattle Sounders FC under-23 training.
He’s making this almost daily trek so he can best prepare for joining the Long Island University men’s soccer team in August, being the rare player to go directly from Edmonds Community College to an NCAA Division I school.
The opportunity with the Sounders came about because of Abad’s involvement with the Special Olympics USA unified men’s soccer team that competed at the 2019 Special Olympics World Games in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
All of this coalesced over a two-week period in March, and all of it is down to Abad taking the initiative to make things happen.
It’s been a crazy few months for Abad, and the Meadowdale High School graduate is doing everything within his power to make the most of the soccer opportunities he’s created.
“I’ve really been kind of lost for words about the whole thing,” Abad said. “All of it has been absolutely life changing.”
“It’s just amazing,” Ozzy Erkut, Abad’s coach at Edmonds CC, said. “He’s a local guy who came to a community college and just loves the game. The past year it’s been amazing what he’s achieved, and I’m super happy for him.”
The intersection point for all these events came in early March.
It began with Abad committing to Long Island University. Abad was a Northwest Athletic Conference All-North Region selection as a sophomore defensive midfielder for Edmonds last fall, and he eventually was named the Tritons’ Male Athlete of the Year for 2018-19 among all sports. But playing for an NCAA Division I school was always his dream, and NWAC doesn’t draw a lot of attention from D-I scouts. So he started contacting schools himself. One he chose was Long Island University because his friend, former Edmonds-Woodway High School girls soccer star Gabby Clark, played for the women’s team.
“During my high school days (playing for an NCAA Division I college) was all I wanted to do,” Abad said. “One of the things about being a CC athlete, you don’t get the looks that you would coming out of high school. So you really have to put yourself out there and try to make things happen for yourself.”
Abad corresponded with the Sharks coaching staff and Abad went for a visit. The two sides decided they were a match, with Abad also being enamored with LIU’s business program. Abad won’t be on athletic scholarship with the Sharks, but he is receiving some academic scholarships.
Abad committed to LIU in early March, and within two weeks he was headed to Abu Dhabi for the Special Olympics World Games, which took place March 14-21. Abad was a unified partner on the U.S. 11-a-side men’s team — unified teams consist of both special athletes and non-special athletes like Abad.
Abad got involved with the team through his longtime friend, Brandon Primm. Primm’s older brother, Danny, is a Special Olympian, and Primm has long been involved. Last summer Primm invited Abad to try out for the Special Olympics Washington unified team, which ended up being the one that represented the U.S. at the World Games. But Abad, much to his disappointment, was unable to attend because of a prior commitment. However, months later a spot opened up on the team. Abad was given a solo tryout and he was accepted onto the team for Abu Dhabi.
“Being at the Special Olympics World Games and meeting so many amazing athletes, hearing their stories about everything they’ve gone through in life and been able to do, it really puts into perspective how our lives are and what we may think of as important, or what we may thing of as a challenge,” Abad said. “Sometimes it’s absolutely nothing compared to what other people have gone through. The whole experience really opened my eyes to the world.”
The U.S. went 1-1-1 in pool against Kenya, Denmark and India, lost to eventual gold medalist South Africa in the semifinals, then beat India to win the bronze medal.
“It was good,” Abad said about the level of play. “They’re all good players out there. When we were playing soccer everything else went away, they were soccer players and they were good. We had one player on our team I’d say easily could have made a CC team, he’s a phenomenal player.”
It was during the trip to Abu Dhabi that the door to the Sounders opened. Abad, in anticipation of playing at a four-year school, had been trying to contact the Sounders U-23s about training with them during the summer, but to no avail. Unbeknownst to Abad, the reason he received no response from the Sounders U-23s is because they had undergone a coaching change. The new coach, Jason Prenovost, just happened to be part of the U.S. contingent for the Special Olympics World Games. Abad was able to talk to Prenovost about the possibility of training with the team over the summer, a tryout was set up for early May, and Abad earned a spot as a practice player.
Abad is one of several practice players, attending all the team’s sessions and filling in wherever needed.
“The guys I’m playing with are some of the best players around,” Abad said. “Training with these high-caliber players, there’s something to learn from everyone. The community college level is a little slower paced, but going to the D-I level is a big jump. Now I get to train with a bunch of D-I players, and I’m exposed to playing against competing with that caliber of player.”
Abad will spend the rest of the summer practicing with the Sounders U-23s, and since returning from Abu Dhabi he’s remained involved with Special Olympics — he’s looking into opportunities in New York once he arrives at LIU. That means Abad’s whirlwind soccer journey will only continue.
If you have an idea for a community sports story, email Nick Patterson at firstname.lastname@example.org.