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Obed Vargas ready to keep climbing

Fresh off his first professional goal, Vargas knows he’s still got a long ways to go.

Last Updated
3 min read
Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

RENTON — Of all the congratulatory messages Obed Vargas received after scoring his first professional goal on Tuesday, the most memorable was sent by his brother. Abad, a Sounders Academy player, was driving to training with his parents, who were watching the Sounders’ game on their phones.

When Obed’s curling shot hit the back of the net, his parents predictably erupted in joy. As luck would have it, they were at a stoplight and the 16-year-old Abad immediately grabbed his phone, started filming and then sent the video to his brother.

“That brought tears to my eyes,” Vargas said on Thursday. “The passion … that’s the best text message I could receive.”

It was an eruption that was several years in the making. Vargas first burst onto the scene as one of the youngest players to ever appear in an MLS match back in 2021, turning in an impressive performance as a 15-year-old to help the Sounders score an upset over Austin FC. By the following season, he was earning regular first-team starts as a 16-year-old and most famously filled in for the injured João Paulo in the Concacaf Champions League final. But a back injury a few weeks later cut short his season and he struggled to regain his form in 2023, finishing the season with just one start over the final two months.

Vargas admitted he was disappointed with his playing time, but used that as motivation heading into this season. Among his stated goals was being more involved offensively. Coming into this season, he had logged just two professional assists and just one in about 2,200 MLS minutes.

After a somewhat slow start, Vargas seems to be feeling more and more comfortable each week. He had an assist in the Sounders’ 5-0 win over CF Montreal, probably should have had an assist with a well-placed cross to Cristian Roldan against D.C. United, and then had a breakout performance against the Union.

His big moment came in the 22nd minute when he took a pass from Léo Chú and then set himself up with a long touch at the top of the penalty area before unleashing a wicked shot that bent just inside the far post. It was the kind of goal you tend to expect from a seasoned striker, not a player with no goals in more than 5,000 professional minutes up to that point and known more for his defensive work.

“In my head I said I looked like Raúl [Ruidíaz] when I hit it,” Vargas said, only half-jokingly. “I’ve see him take that shot in training everyday and just felt like him in that moment.”

Vargas’ goal was obviously the highlight of his game against the Union, but even without that it likely would have gone down as one of his best-ever performances. Vargas also drew a penalty with some clever dribbling in the penalty area — which set up what proved to be Ruidíaz’s game-winner — and was 5 of 6 on dribbles. Defensively, Vargas had one of his better performances as well, winning all six of his tackles and 15 of 19 duels.

“That was a big step,” Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer said. “He’s been playing well under the radar. For him to have as complete of a game as he did in Philly — it was both sides of the field and tactically — it was a big step forward.”

Far more experienced than the average 18-year-old, Vargas knows this is only another step in a rather long climb. Young careers are built on near constant ups and downs, but maintaining an upward trajectory is key.

During the early stages of his professional career with Tacoma Defiance, his head coach was Wade Webber. Vargas has taken the lessons he learned in those days to heart.

“One of the things Wade always said was ‘you’re only as good as your next game,’” Vargas said. “Our last game is done, we have to show it again. That’s the difficult part about playing sports, you have to show up every day and perform.”