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Sounders using tuition incentive as development tool

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Their direct-to-USL signings out of the Academy won’t have to ignore their eduction.

Max Aquino / Sounder at Heart

Down in the USL with Sounders FC 2, Sam Rogers had a rather remarkable year. He committed to Villanova, broke into the squad as a regular centerback after transitioning from defensive midfield, signed a pro contract and graduated from Ballard High School. Once he signed that pro deal he lost his scholarship to Villanova. His educational path could have terminated. Instead, the Seattle Sounders and Rogers found a new path — tuition assistance to the University of Washington.

Rogers was one of five S2 talents signed directly to USL deals rather than playing for the lower division side while Homegrown Players. HGPs already have a college component built into their deals, but direct-to-USL players do not.

President of Soccer Garth Lagerwey, a Duke University graduate, and ownership, led by UW grad Adrian Hanauer, figured out how to provide the talented Rogers the best of both his worlds (soccer and education).

Lagerwey described the conversation after the Annual Business Meeting. “When we sat down with him and his family we said, ‘Hey, what about this alternative to stay here and play professional soccer with S2 and we’ll address the education piece?’”

Rogers missed the enrollment deadline for Fall Quarter. He spent that quarter at North Seattle Community College. “It’s kind of hard to fit in a schedule like UW while we’re still in season,” Rogers told Sounder at Heart while helping the First Team prepare to defend their MLS Cup. “So I’m still working on when I’ll actually transfer to UW.”

This incentive, which is more like a stipend than a scholarship, was a major motivation for Sam, and excited his parents too.

“They love it, because school is obviously very important,” Rogers said. “It’s important to my family and to myself and I’ve always liked going to school, so it’s nice to be able to still do that while also playing with the Sounders.”

Lagerwey pointed out that this is a program, not a one-time thing.

“For some kids, it will make sense for them to continue to go to UW, some kids it’ll make sense to sign at S2, but we hope to continue in partnership — not just with UW, but Seattle University and there’s other really good soccer programs in the area. And, you know different kids will make different choices, etcetera, but it’s something that we’re very excited about long term just in terms of now not forcing kids to choose at 18 years old something that may impact the rest of their life.”

Rogers knows that this will influence other Academy talents as well, and not just the ones with great grades.

“I think other players would feel that way as well, because we all love playing here and this is the best atmosphere you can be in if you want to develop quicker. I think there’s plenty of schools close by that are totally accessible to any player — whether any GPA, any academic level that will suit them,” Rogers explained. “I think it’s a great thing to have for the Academy kids if that’s what they want to do. It’s your own choice, but personally I think if you want to play pro and you want to get there as fast as you can, this is the best option. I think they’re going to work on getting this option to more players in the years to come.”

Future players may find their path involves technical or community college, or the big programs like Seattle U and University of Washington. That path will be up to the team and what suits the individual player’s talents.

In S2’s first year, there was one direct-to-USL signing. Duncan McCormick turned away from Wake Forrest. In their second year, Jordan Schweitzer signed after finishing his time at Denver. In 2017, Sam Rogers joined a squad that already had Lorenzo Ramos, Shandon Hopeau and David Olsen. Late in the year, Azriel Gonzalez signed at just 16 years old.

As Seattle’s Academy continues to grow, they found a way to help those players that need professional development at younger ages, without having them set aside their post-soccer futures.