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Trey Muse represents landmark signing for Sounders’ home-stay program

Muse is the first of what could be a long line of Homegrown Players the Sounders find from outside the region.

Charis Wilson / Seattle Sounders FC

At just 19 years old and standing 6-foot-4 with cat-like reflexes, Trey Muse has the combination of youth, size and skill that coaches drool over. It’s not at all difficult to imagine him turning into an elite goalkeeper, especially after he led his team to the College Cup in each of his two years at Indiana University.

But for as good as Muse may turn out to be, his signing may be one of the more important in Sounders history in part because of what he represents.

Muse, you see, is the first Homegrown signing to be produced from the Sounders’ home-stay program, in which they effectively recruit players from outside the region, set them up with host families, enroll them in local schools and have them play for the Sounders Academy. GM Garth Lagerwey brought the program to Seattle after running a more elaborate version when he was with Real Salt Lake, where the club operated a full-blown residency in Arizona that featured dormitories and enrollment at a charter school.

Now going into the fourth year of the program, the Sounders Academy has more than a dozen home-stay players and several have already signed professionals contracts with S2. Muse could be just the first of a long line of Sounders Homegrown Players who didn’t actually grow up in the area.

“He certainly won’t be the last, let’s put it that way,” said Lagerwey. “It’s definitely a landmark in terms of the program starting to bear some fruit. This is what we’ve been talking about. You’ll start seeing some of these guys come through.”

Taking a chance

The Sounders found Muse while he was playing for a relatively small club called Derby City Rovers in Louisville, Ky. He was a reasonably well-known prospect, but wasn’t facing much high-level competition.

The Sounders stepped in and offered him a chance to play with and against elite-level youths in the Developmental Academy. He’d have the opportunity to be seen by not just college coaches, but also by youth national team coaches and he would suddenly have a much clearer path to the pros. There was a significant catch, though. He’d have to move across the country, live with strangers and acclimate to a new city.

He accepted, and after a brief trial joined the Sounders Academy.

Muse spent his junior and senior years attending Roosevelt High School. While he was there he emerged as the starting goalkeeper for a talented Sounders Academy U-18 group whose highlight was a third-place finish in the 2017 USSDA playoffs.

“It was a little different,” Muse told Sounder at Heart about moving so far from home at 16 years old. “Stepping outside my comfort zone at that age was a little difficult, but once I got acclimated to life in Seattle at a new school and with a new team was a good thing. It helped me develop, especially off the field.”

Perhaps even more important that the exposure was the access to a level of coaching he would have never received. Shortly after Muse came to Seattle, former Sounder Troy Perkins was hired as the academy’s goalkeeping coach. After Perkins left, he was replaced by Josh Ford, another former Sounders goalkeeper. He also got to train with the First Team, where he worked with Tommy Dutra — one of the top goalkeeping coaches in MLS — and alongside players like Stefan Frei.

“Being able to be treated as a professional showed me where I wanted to go,” Muse said.

Muse was able to translate his academy experience into a scholarship to Indiana University, where he grabbed the starting job as a freshman and immediately become one of the top goalkeepers in the college game. Muse led Indiana to the College Cup championship game his freshman year and then to the semifinals his sophomore year. In addition to gaining another year of playing experience, completing his second year also means he can return to Indiana to finish his degree for free. In the meantime, he said he’s planning to move toward his degree in sports business management through online classes.

If all goes as planned, he may not need that degree.

Most observers seem to agree that Muse is now one of the top goalkeeping prospects in the U.S. youth national team pool. Last summer, he landed a trial with PEC Zwolle of the Dutch Eredivisie and this summer he hopes to lead the United States into the U-20 World Cup.

“He’s got the size, he’s got the technical ability, he’s got the shot stopping,” Lagerwey said, himself a former MLS goalkeeper. “He’s got to be refined and pushed and all that, but he’s got a good platform. He’s a Brad Friedel-type of goalkeeper. He’s got a long way to go, but he’s the best goalkeeper coming out of a school that has produced a lot of great goalkeepers.”

Time to mature

Muse’s signing comes with the added bonus of effectively not counting against the Sounders’ roster. A mechanism in the MLS rules allows for a “31st” player to be added if they are a goalkeeper under the age of 24. As a Homegrown Player, his salary also doesn’t count against the cap.

That will allow the Sounders to be even more patient than they might be with other players. With Frei entrenched as the starter for the foreseeable future, the plan is for Muse to get plenty of experience at S2, where he’ll likely share minutes with Bryan Meredith. Even if he’s not starting every game, he could easily get 20-25 starts a year and have close to 100 professional appearances under his belt by the time he ages out of the “31st player” spot.

“We have a chance — because we have such a good starter in Stef — to give him a few years in the USL and then put him in a really good position to succeed even at a young age,” Lagerwey said. “We were also mindful that we felt we did a really good job with Tyler Miller and when he was ready, he moved on. We wanted to see if we could replicate that, sign a young goalkeeper, give him a couple years to develop and either move him for value or promote him to the First Team depending on how Stef is. It’s something we’ve done before.”